Northern Ireland's Eastern Region set up a trip to Veneto in June for the finals of the UEFA Regions' Cup with victory in Group 6 of the intermediary round, hosted by San Marino.
Eastern Region's passage was already confirmed after the second round of matches when they defeated English representatives Jersey, rendering irrelevant their 2-0 loss to Leinster & Munster in their final fixture at Serravalle's Stadio Olimpico, a game which started late due to a heavy downpour just before kick-off.
The hosts' hopes were already over after an opening 1-0 defeat by the eventual group winners was followed by a 0-0 draw with the representatives from the Republic of Ireland. For their part, Leinster & Munster were also eliminated having lost their opener to Jersey 2-1, a result which set up a premature final between the two United Kingdom rivals.
It was a predictably combative affair with John Boyle putting Eastern Region in front. Craig Russell levelled with a fine individual goal before Colum Curtis scored the decisive goal late on, beating James Styles inside his far post with a shot on the turn.
Eastern Region can now look forward to the final tournament in Veneto, which will be their manager Harry McConkey's second. "I took the team to the finals in 2007 and it was an incredible experience in Bulgaria," he said. "We were very close to getting into the final and now we see Italy and Spain staring at us, so it's going to be a massive challenge, but it's a great achievement to be there. Of course, we will show a lot of respect to our opposition, but we certainly aren't frightened."
The preparations have already begun for Eastern Region. "The Republic of Ireland have offered us a friendly game in the build-up – possibly even two – so they've been very generous,” added McConkey, who praised the overall conditions, in spite of the heavy rain which threatened their final match. "We didn't come here for the weather; we came for the experience of the football and to embrace the culture. It's a fantastic tournament and it's been a great learning experience."
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