Two-time UEFA Regions' Cup fair play award winners, Eastern Region NIR will look to win something more substantial as Harry McConkey's men head south for the finals.
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Harry McConkey hopes to mark his tenth year in charge of Eastern Region NIR by making a memorable impact at the UEFA Regions' Cup finals in the Republic of Ireland.
Appointed in January 2005, the 55-year-old will lead his team into the world's top amateur tournament for a third time, Eastern Region having performed admirably at the 2007 and 2013 finals. "I do believe it's a huge achievement for us to feature in three of five tournaments since 2007, and I don't think we should take it for granted," he said. "The UEFA Regions' Cup is a wonderful tournament, so we all take great pride and satisfaction from the fact we will be playing in the finals for a third time in only eight years this summer."
Fair play winners at the 2007 and 2013 events, McConkey is optimistic they can get their hands on an even more substantial prize in Dublin this June and July. "It means a lot that we have won two fair play awards," he said. "At the same time it's hard to forget we just missed out on second place in the group in 2007 and 2013. On both occasions we were pipped to a bronze medal on goal difference. At the 2013 tournament we were one goal short of securing second place, so it would be nice to put that right this year."
McConkey declined to single out squad members for individual praise, though several players caught the eye as the Northern Irish topped intermediary round Group 5 in Moldova; Richard Thompson and Stephen Murray provided pace and a cutting edge in attack, while goalkeeper Brian Neeson, captain Scott McMillan, centre-back Andrew Doyle and midfielder Marcus Dallas also impressed.
"We had to come through a very tough group," said McConkey. "The Spanish side, Selección Catalana, were top seeds and only one team could qualify for the finals, so we were really up against it. Beating the hosts Teleneşti 5-1 and then Piatykhatska of Ukraine 4-0 gave us great momentum, but to actually defeat Catalana [1-0] was a remarkable performance and result. When the final whistle went, there was just an unbelievable sense of achievement and satisfaction."
McConkey's men now face a less arduous journey to get to the finals themselves – just south of the Irish border. "The fact it's in Dublin will help in terms of preparation time, travel and logistics," he said. "There are a lot of positives to take from the location and that's the way we'll be approaching it – in a very positive frame of mind."