The EA SPORTS LOI Academy title, and the opportunity to play in next season’s UEFA Youth League, is the prize on offer for our MU17 team when they take on Shamrock Rovers at Roadstone at 2pm on Saturday.

The young Lilywhites, who have lost just four of their 24 games in all competitions this season, go into the final day sitting top of the Elite Phase table on 27 points, level with Shelbourne, but with a goal difference of plus one.

If they can record a win that is equal – or better than – a Shelbourne victory against Treaty United in Limerick, Cian Maher and Ciaran Cleary’s team will be crowned champions, cementing their place as the country’s best side at U17 level. If Shels and Dundalk both draw, UCD could pip them both to the crown with a big win away to Waterford.

“It’s been a terrific season for the group,” said Maher. “Every single player has contributed to where we are. We drew our first game of the season against Finn Harps but went on to qualify for the Elite section, keeping three clean sheets in the process.

“We’re playing against better opposition in the Elite phase but we’ve still kept eight clean sheets in 13 games which has meant we’ve been top of the league since the first round of games. We haven’t been knocked off the top once and we hope it stays that way on Saturday.”

With the academy cup finals taking centre stage last week, the squad had the luxury of a weekend off to prepare for Saturday’s shootout and Maher said the mood in the camp was good.

Dundalk players celebrate Markuss Strods’ goal against Bohemians earlier in the season. Photo: Gerry Scully

“We just have to go and do our job in Roadstone,” he said. “Rovers won the U17 Cup last week but this is a great opportunity for our lads. They have earned the right to be where they are and they just have to go out and do what they’ve been doing up to this point.”

One of the key men for Dundalk this season has been Markuss Strods. The attacker has been involved with the first team, along with Luke Mulligan, in recent weeks and is hoping for a memorable finale to a fine campaign.

“We’ve been on top of the table for the whole year so it’s just about trying to finish it off now,” he said. “All we can do is focus on our game and we’ll see when it’s over how the others get on.”

Strods has been capped at U17 level for Latvia this season and he said the prospect of playing in the UEFA Youth League next season was a huge incentive for Dundalk.

“It would be a massive achievement for the club and for the squad to qualify for that,” he said. “As players, it would be huge for our development to play in a competition like that.”

Everyone at the club would like to thank Dole for the support they have shown our MU17 and MU19 men’s teams this season.