There’s an exciting weekend ahead for our four male underage teams as the newly titled 2023 EA SPORTS LOI Academy season gets underway.

Under the guidance of academy director Derek Boyle, the club’s underage teams enjoyed a very successful 2022 campaign and there has been further progress over the winter with the addition of a WU19 team and the arrival of former first-team striker Johnny Breen as academy strength and conditioning coach.

Our MU14 and MU17 teams are in action on Saturday while our MU15 and MU19 teams kickoff on Sunday. The WU19 team play their first game at national level on Sunday week, March 5th while the WU17 team get started six days later.

  • EA SPORTS MU14 LOI Academy
  • Dundalk FC v St Patrick’s Athletic
  • Saturday, February 25th – 2pm
  • Oriel Park

Former Dundalk full-back Shane Grimes returned to the club before Christmas to take over as head coach of the MU14 team.

Grimes will be assisted by Stephen Hutchinson and Luke Murphy with St Patrick’s Athletic their first opponents at Oriel Park on Saturday at 2pm.

“Pre-season has gone well,” said Grimes. “The lads have applied themselves well in terms of their attitude and application and their professionalism.

“Some of the lads have come straight in without having a break and have been on the go for a fair bit of time so they’re in really good shape and they’ve gelled quickly as a group. I’m really excited to work with them.”

The U14 section is non-competitive this year and Grimes said that would only help with player development.

“There’s no league tables so the main priority is to develop lads, bring them up to speed at this level and take them as far as they can go at the club,” he said.

“It’s their first year at National League level and for a lot of them its their first taste of strength and conditioning training and things like that but they’re relishing it and we’re all eagerly waiting for the kickoff against Pat’s on Saturday.”

  • EA SPORTS MU15 LOI Academy
  • Dundalk FC v Bohemians
  • Sunday, February 26th – 11am
  • Oriel Park

Under the guidance of head coach Thomas McShane and his coaching team of Craig Gray, Sean O’Hare and Adam Byrne, our MU15 team get their campaign underway when they host Bohemians at Oriel Park on Sunday.

“Pre-season has gone really well,” said McShane. “We’ve played five games and our preparation has been good. We’ve added a couple of new players this season which has increased the competition in the squad.

“We’ve been back in training since January 3rd so we’ve had six or seven weeks of training under our belts, three nights a week and a gym session. That has been tough on the lads but they have really embraced it, everyone is fully fit and ready to go, and they’re chomping at the bit ahead of Sunday.”

The U15s are in a tough group with Bohemians, Bray Wanderers, Klub Kildare, Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United but McShane said his players were looking to embrace the challenge.

“There will be no easy games but I think that will only be beneficial to the development of our players and by playing against the best opposition they can, they will learn more whether they win, lose or draw.

“Our goal for the season is to develop the players and hopefully ensure they can kick on and get into the U17 team next season, which is a massive jump. Winning games is nice but coaching individuals and the team to be better is our main objective.”

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  • EA SPORTS MU17 LOI Academy
  • Finn Harps v Dundalk FC
  • Saturday, February 25th – 2pm
  • Letterkenny

MU17 head coach Conor Woods, along with his coaching team of Ciaran Cleary and Cian Maher, are aiming high this season ahead of their opener away to Finn Harps on Saturday.

The U17s won all four of their pre-season games and after adding a number of the club’s U15 players from last season to the ranks, Woods said he is looking forward to an exciting year ahead.

“We managed to retain a lot of the U17 squad from last year and add in a couple of really good U15 players from the club so we’re going into it with a really strong group.

“Our aim is to progress as many players as we can into the U19s and get them to a standard where they can play in that age group and with the U17s this season. That will get them ready for next season so the transition is easier between U17 and U19s.”

The winners of the EA SPORTS MU17 League of Ireland will go on to represent Ireland at UEFA Youth League level in 2024/25 and Woods said that was a big incentive for his players.

“The players always want to win and we want to do as well as possible this year. First and foremost, we want to qualify in the top two for the Elite Phase as that will only help their development.

“Qualifying for the UEFA Youth League would be everyone’s dream but the main goal is to try and put our own stamp on the league, develop players for the U19s, and try and keep pushing lads into the international set up as we have been doing for the past few years.”

  • EA SPORTS MU19 LOI Academy
  • Dundalk FC v Longford Town
  • Sunday, February 26th – 3pm
  • Oriel Park

After finishing second overall last year, the MU19 squad, under head coach Tiarnan Mulvenna and his coaching team of Mark Griffin, John Sharkey and Mark Byrne are hoping for another productive season which gets underway at home to Longford Town on Sunday at 3pm.

“Squad-wise, we are very happy,” said Mulvenna. “We have a number of lads in the Schools international team and we have lads in for U19 assessments so we have good players and it’s about trying to mould them into a team and improve.

“It’s a young group,” he added. “A lot of the lads are in their second year at this age group and some of them still have another year to go so learning wise, it’s another great chance for them to progress.

“Our plan is to qualify from the first group and then go into the Elite Phase and compete with the bigger academies around the country, as we did last year.

“If we can do anything similar to that, we would be delighted – and it would be nice to get a cup run in aswell!”

Anthony Moyo, Oisin Coleman, Jake Hough, Callum Bonner, Senan Mullen and Eoin Kenny were involved with the first team during pre-season and Mulvenna said that was the yardstick for this age group.

“A lot of the lads have eyes on them, be that from international football or clubs across the water, and the aim is to try and get them to break into Stephen O’Donnell’s first team. If we can do that, then we’re doing our job properly.”