U19 striker Neill Byrne is getting ready to make his competitive debut for the Irish International Schools team tomorrow.
Paddy O'Reilly's team host Wales in Dublin in the opening game of the 2017 Centenary Shield, an annual competition which sees the best home based players who are still in school from Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England play each other.
The game is in Home Farm FC in Whitehall with a 2.30pm kick off on Thursday.
Neillo spoke to StPatsFC.Com before meeting up with the squad for training on Wednesday.
"I'm absolutely delighted to be picked for the squad for our first competitive game, we had around eight or nine trial games and sessions and then friendly matches against Shels, Bray and my own Pat's team plus a game against Australia so it's nice to be looking forward to a competitive game now."
Byrne scored 22 goals as our U17s won the SSE Airtricity Elite Division title last year and has impressed so far in pre season since moving up to the U19s.
So does it feel the Centenary Shield will be another step up in class?
"Yeah, this game against Wales will be a step up I think, it's an international game and by all accounts Wales are a good team. I feel like the hard-work I put in at Pat's since I joined in 2015 has been justified. We had a quality group of players and coaches at the 17s and it's the same at the 19s, playing and training at that level has definitely made me better, but I need to keep getting better now."
Despite the number of different sessions and trial games over the last couple of months, the Irish Schools squad has had the same 20 or so players in it for the last few weeks, Neill says that's helped them gel as a group under Manager Paddy O'Reilly and coach Ollie Horgan.
"Yeah the squad has been similar for the last few trials so we have had the chance to work on how we press and different tactics etc. The session and games and just being around each other and getting to know each other, has been a great help and the team is really beginning to click on and off the pitch."
Results in the preparation process have been mixed for the boys in green, with their Welsh game providing their first real rest, Neill knows they need to be at the top of their game.
"We've been told a lot about Wales and that they have two really good centre forwards. They are meant to be the best attacking line up the Welsh have had for a while so we will need to keep them quiet. I think the game itself will be fast paced and a bit like a local derby. With the Australian game their physicality really showed and we couldn't really match them in that aspect but when we play the Welsh I think it will be a much more even contest."
Byrne has played mainly as a central striker in his 20 months with St Pat's, but has featured a little on the right and left wing too.
It's been the opposite with the schools team, where he's been on the right wing for the majority of the games, but did start up front, ironically against his own St Pats team in their last friendly.
His versatility will be a help as he aims to continue the habit of hitting the back of the net.
"We have a squad of 18 for this game, and obviously there's only about five or six attacking players in it. I think the way I can play in three different positions could be a help. If there's an injury or the coaches feel I can do a good job wide, I'm happy to do that. I always look to score goals no matter what team I'm playing for and in any position as I always feel annoyed if I don't end up on the score sheet."
Finally, the Dunshaughlin Community College man gave us an update on how pre season with St Pats is going, with the new season just over a month away.
"Things are going really well with Pats, after a very successful two seasons with the 17s winning the league and finishing runners up in the cup, I'm looking forward to the start of the 19s season. It's going to be a higher standard for us and we'll be aiming to win every game and every competition we enter."
Ireland vs Wales at Home Farm FC in Whitehall kicks off at 2.30pm this coming Thursday (Feb 16th)
The boys in green will then travel to play Northern Ireland (March 2nd), Scotland (April 6th) before finishing the competition at home to England on April 13th.
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