Eastern Region will travel back to Northern Ireland after their final Group A game against Qarachala, but midfielder Jonathan Montgomery knows they have made their point in Veneto.
The lowest-ranked nation represented at the finals, Northern Ireland have traditionally played a game revolving around power and physical presence, but Harry McConkey's Eastern Region have delighted crowds from the preliminary rounds through to the finals with stylish football. Crucial to that, the 24-year-old recruitment consultant believes, is their focus on little skilful players like himself.
"In Northern Ireland, we don't usually get to the finals of anything," he told UEFA.com. "Being here is an achievement for a country of our size, and the style and manner in which we play shows that a small country can play football, and maybe the fact that we are here could give other people the confidence to play the same way."
Taking his inspiration from the stylish little movers of FC Barcelona, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, Montgomery is a key element in McConkey's tactical plan. "I have never really been given the opportunity to get the ball down and play before," he explained. "I am usually the guy in midfield who is watching the ball get kicked over the top of me by guys who are six foot six."
Results have not necessarily done Eastern Region justice at the finals – a goalkeeping blunder and an unstoppable second goal paved the way for a 4-1 loss to Veneto on the opening day and they were unlucky to be denied victory against Keleti Régió second time out. However, as much as they are enjoying their time at the finals, Montgomery was eager to take a longer view.
"We have been playing right from the first qualifying round and it has been a good progression," he explained. "The manager has been refreshing for everyone involved. From the start we couldn't play the ball out from the goalkeeper, but the training sessions and competitive games have been very beneficial. Here and from the previous qualifying tournaments in FYROM and San Marino, I hope people will remember us for our good manner and good humour."
Group A's headline game today involves the sides Eastern Region met in their opening two days playing for a place in Saturday's final, and while he vaunted the virtues of the powerful, aggressive Keleti Régió, Montgomery could not speak highly enough of Veneto. "The Italians had some very good players who could play in our top flight in Northern Ireland, no problem," he said. "They were a class act – really well drilled and in peak condition physically."
A similar conclusion could easily be drawn of Montgomery's team – but they will take some satisfaction in a journey that was ultimately more important than the final destination. "For any young player from Northern Ireland, to put your national kit on at whatever level is a dream come true," he explained. "Senior team or as an amateur, I couldn't be more proud."
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