Youth and grassroots football took the spotlight on the eve of the UEFA Europa League final as UEFA President Michel Platini attended the finals of a grassroots festival and a new mini-pitch was inaugurated in the Irish capital.
The UEFA President was present for the conclusion of a major grassroots programme organised by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and Dublin City Council. After watching the Road to the Europa League finals action played out across several pitches at the Irishtown Stadium in Dublin, Mr Platini presented medals to the players and linked up with each winning team for a group photo.
Mr Platini joined dignitaries including Dublin mayor Gerry Breen, FAI president Paddy McCaul and UEFA Europa League final ambassador Ronnie Whelan at the event which involved 114 children.
Boys teams, girls teams and mixed teams from the under-10 and under-12 age groups had been participating in the programme for several months. The 4v4 format of matches meant greater involvement for all players, as did the concept of three passes before teams could score. Sportsmanship was another key feature, with extra points awarded for good behaviour.
Gerry Reardon, the FAI Dublin regional manager, informed the UEFA President of the massive interest generated by the tournament. "Michel was delighted to hear how the venture developed from last November when we originally set it up," said Reardon. "All the kids got to play at least six games on finals day and the rules lent themselves to technical development as each player got plenty of touches.
"Michel was particularly happy to hear that each of the participants and their parent or guardian were provided with complimentary tickets for the Europa League final."
Earlier in the day a mini-pitch, installed with assistance from UEFA's HatTrick programme, was opened for the community in the Kevin Street quarter of central Dublin. Set on a piece of land known as the Cabbage Patch, the pitch was unveiled by UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino together with Gerry Breen, Paddy McCaul, Ronnie Whelan, FAI general secretary John Delaney and representatives of local organisations. Twenty-five lucky schoolchildren from the district were the first to try out the new surface.
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