Irish celebrate Regions' Cup place
Friday, 31 October 2008
Region I AMA will represent the Republic of Ireland in the 2009 UEFA Regions' Cup finals after winning a dramatic mini-tournament in Italy in a three-way tie-break with teams from the host nation and England.
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Region I AMA will represent the Republic of Ireland in the 2008/09 UEFA Regions' Cup finals next summer after winning a dramatic Group 2 mini-tournament in Italy.
Going into the final set of matches, both Southern Amateur League AMA and hosts CR Piemonte Valle d'Aosta AMA had beaten East of Scotland AMA while the Irish team had held their English counterparts 0-0 and the Italian side 2-2. But a goalless draw between the leaders ensured that Region I could qualify with a win better than 3-1 against East of Scotland, to top a three-way head-to-head tie-break on goal difference. They prevailed 5-1 thanks to a Dean Kelly hat-trick and further strikes by Daniel Loughran and Ray Whelehan, with Ken Hoey and Declan O'Connell dominant on the wings and James Walsh and Paul Breen superb in defence.
It is the third time manager Gerry Smith has qualified for the UEFA Regions' Cup, having led national Irish teams to the 2001 and 2005 finals. "This is a fantastic achievement for this side and they are a credit to amateur football in Ireland," Smith said. "I cannot put enough emphasis on the strong performances from the whole squad in three really tough games against England, Italy and Scotland. It was an incredibly tough group and I knew from the outset that we were more than capable of qualifying for the finals."
His team will meet sides from Croatia, Russia, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia with two more places up for grabs. The venue for next summer's finals will be announced at the end of 2008 once all eight qualifiers are known. "While I am under no illusion to the daunting task which we will face at the finals next year, we can take great confidence from defeating three really outstanding sides," Smith said. "This is a massive boost for all concerned in grassroots football in Ireland and I expect a massive competition for places in the squad for the finals."