Vinnie Leonard became the latest academy player to be capped by the Republic of Ireland when he made his debut for the Boys In Green’s MU16 squad in the UEFA Development Tournament in Portugal last week.

The Meath-native, who became the youngest player to represent Dundalk in a competitive game when he appeared in the Leinster Senior Cup tie with Bohemians in January at the age of 15, was one of 18 League of Ireland academy players in Paul Osam’s squad.

Vinnie made his international bow as an 88th-minute substitute in the opening game against Switzerland, a five-goal thriller that the Irish were unlucky to lose.

He played the full 90 minutes in game two, a 1-1 draw against Austria that ended with Ireland winning 4-3 on penalties. Leonard was unlucky not to mark his first full start with a goal after going close with an acrobatic over-head kick.

Vinnie was also named in the starting XI for the final game, a 3-0 defeat against a strong Portugal team, and Dundalk FC MU17 academy coach Thomas McShane, who has nurtured Leonard since he arrived at Oriel Park in 2022, said he was hopeful that the youngster would continue to make big strides.

“We signed Vinnie from Torro United ahead of the 2022 season and he has now gone on to represent Dundalk FC at U14, U15, U17, U20 and first-team level,” said McShane.

Vinnie Leonard, pictured on international duty with the Republic of Ireland MU16 squad in Portugal

“He was the captain of our U14 and U15 team in 2022 and 2023 respectively and over the second half of last season, into the first five months of this year, he has improved rapidly.”

Vinnie played all three games at the heart of the Irish defence, a stark contrast to when he arrived at Oriel Park three years ago.

“When we signed Vinnie, he was attending the FAI’s North East Centre of Excellence. We were recommended to have a look and we signed him after just one training session,” revealed McShane.

“At the time, he was playing as a midfielder and one of the first conversations between myself and his dad Gordon was that he had the potential to be a very good centre back. We just needed to convince Vinnie!

“People can see his progress on the field but the stuff they don’t see is the extra sessions and constant willingness he has to improve his game. 

“If he continues to work hard, I really feel he can go on and achieve further international recognition and play for our first team on a regular basis in the future.”