Irish players at the NextGen Series
The inaugural season of the NextGen Series kicked off in August. Billed as an underage Champions League, it sees sixteen clubs across Europe battle for the title. Four English clubs and one Scottish side are involved, meaning many of Ireland’s underage stars are getting a taste of European football against the youth of Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Ajax.
With just four group games left in total, most of the quarter-final positions have already been decided. Barcelona and Marseille knocked out Man City and Celtic in Group 1, while Liverpool pipped Wolfsburg by a point in Group 2 to progress. Aston Villa topped Group 3 ahead of Ajax, and Tottenham have already guaranteed their place in the knockout stage despite Internazionale having games in hand.
Paul George – FW – 4 games, 2 goals
The Republic of Ireland under 19 forward missed the first game with Marseille, but was drafted into the starting lineup for the next game against Barcelona. George was unlucky not to score against the Spanish giants, but the next game proved more fruitful. Against Man City, he was tireless throughout, scoring twice in a convincing 4-2 win, heading home Callan McGregor’s corner, and slotting in from six yards. In the return leg at Celtic Park, he wasn’t on the scoresheet, but played well, supporting the attack as well as tracking back well when needed, helping the Bhoys to a 2-1 win. Celtic still have a game left to play, but a 5-1 thumping last time out against Barcelona means George has no chance of featuring in the latter stages.
Sean Tse – DF – 1 game
With City already out of the competition after defeats to Celtic, Marseille, and Barcelona, Academy boss Scott Sellars gave some of the fringe players a game in their last match against Marseille. Former Irish u17 international Sean Tse was one of these players drafted in, and did well against the French side, defending solidly, but unfortunately goals in each half saw City slump to their sixth defeat of the tournament.
Joe Rafferty – DF – 0 games
An unused substitute for Liverpool’s games with Sporting, Wolfsburg, and Molde, Irish under-19 international defender Joe Rafferty has yet to make his mark on the tournament. However, with Liverpool progressing to the quarter finals, he could yet be called upon to make an appearance.
Richard Bryan – DF – 4 games
Graham Burke – FW – 5 games, 2 goals
Samir Carruthers – MF – 6 games, 1 goal
Mikey Drennan – MF – 3 game, 1 goal
Jack Grealish – MF – 2 games
Derrick Williams – DF – 5 games, 1 goal
With around half a dozen Irishmen in their NextGen Series squad, Aston Villa are definitely the ones to watch. Managed by Kevin MacDonald, a man with Premiership experience, having managed Villa after the resignation of Martin O’Neill last year, they are well fancied to do well in the competition. They lost 2-0 in their opening game to Ajax, but a goal from Ireland u19 midfielder Samir Carruthers paved the way for a convincing 4-0 win over Fenerbahce. Graham Burke was unlucky not to score too, while Carruthers also had a hand in Villa’s third, setting up Callum Robinson. Unfortunately, the only goal scored by an Irishman in the return game at the Maltepe Stadý, in Istanbul was at the wrong end, with Derrick Williams following in the tradition of Richard Dunne, and heading into his own net. Mikey Drennan came off the bench to make his tournament debut, and a late surge from Villa saw them win 2-1 in the end. Despite going down early to Rosenborg, a double from Burke and an impact goal from substitute Drennan saw Villa win 4-1 in their next game, with Jack Grealish included on the bench once more. A first half equaliser from Derrick Williams wasn’t enough to help Aston Villa take three points in Norway, as Rosenborg came back from 2-1 down to win 3-2. 17 year old Jack Grealish came off the bench for his first proper taste of action, but could not to much to help Villa get anything from the game. Needing a win in their last tie, a hat-trick from England u21 midfielder Gary Gardner saw Villa reach the quarter-finals, ensuring more gametime for Aston Villa’s many Irishmen. Former Ireland u15 international Jordan Graham also played two games in he group stage, but it looks as if he has pledged his international future to England.
Watch Paul George’s double against Man City and his post-match interview: