Victory Shield 2023: How it happened and who impressed

Victory Shield 2023: How it happened and who impressed

Written by Kyle Houlihan 

Ireland have retained the Victory Shield!

The Ireland U16s set out to defend their Victory Shield title as they travelled to Wales to play three games in six days. 

After just two games and three days, however, they had already been crowned champions for the second year running.

Below we run through what happened and which youngsters you should keep an eye on for the future.

First game: Scotland

The first game of the three took place in terrible conditions against Scotland.

But the weather couldn’t stop Ireland from dominating early on. Captain Rory Finneran swung in a ball which caused a scramble and Shamrock Rovers midfielder Goodness Ogbonna hit home for the only goal of the game.

Jaden Umeh showed why he recently became Cork City’s youngest-ever player as he dazzled throughout. He showed his dribbling ability to skip free and linked up so well with Blackburn Rovers midfielder Finneran and Pat’s striker Michael Noonan all afternoon.

Second game: Wales

A much-changed Ireland were disappointed as the host nation struck home directly from a corner inside the first four minutes. The Irish team continuously tried to breach the Welsh defence for an equaliser but to no avail. 

Then, just before half-time, Wales scored again to leave Ireland with a mountain to climb.

Enter Noonan, Umeh, McDonnell, and Finneran – and watch the game flip on its head.

Twice Grady McDonnell of Vancouver Whitecaps was fouled in the box while driving down the right-hand side.

Michael Noonan stepped up for the first one and assertively put the ball into the bottom right corner. Although the second was saved, Noonan redeemed himself by hitting home from the resulting corner.

Ireland knew a win would bring the Victory Shield trophy home but a loss would put Wales top going into Saturday’s games.

With pure determination, Ireland continued to press and Umeh won a free-kick in the dying seconds.

Whipped in, a Welsh player fell as he cleared and gave away another penalty.

Shamrock Rovers right back/ midfielder Michael Oladiti stepped up and, despite the pressure, calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner.

Pandemonium ensued as every Irish player huddled together in sheer joy.

Third game: Northern Ireland

Despite the game not meaning anything in terms of Ireland’s position in the group, the youngsters in green still wanted to make a statement.

Grady McDonnell headed Ireland in front and they stayed in control for the next 20. However, Northern Ireland equalised down the left-hand side.

Despite wearing number 2, Max Kovalevskis was a thorn in Northern Ireland’s side all game down both wings.

He found McDonnell’s head in the first half, then Noonan in the second. His final assist to Billy O’Neill of Bray showcased his dribbling ability, while O’Neill finished brilliantly into the top right-hand corner.

Running out 3-1 winners, Ireland claimed 9 points from their three games and ran out comfortable winners in another Victory Shield victory.

Players for the Future

Cead McGrath (Sligo Rovers), Sam Steward (St. Patrick’s Athletic)

It would be impossible to talk about one without the other.

Always assured, Ireland looked better at building attacks from the back than anyone else in the tournament, and it was in large part due to these two centre-backs.

Both players constantly stepped up with possession and drove past players.

Defensively, the pairing worked brilliantly well as one would cover while the other stepped up.

Nine times out of ten they won the ball back and off Ireland went on another attack.

They started the first two games together, and when McGrath was rested in the final game against the North, Steward arguably had his best performance of all.

Michael Noonan (St. Patrick’s Athletic)

Three goals in three, yet it was actually Noonan’s link-up play that impressed the most.

Despite not scoring against Scotland, he impressed massively by playing on the half-turn; constantly bringing others showing off his dribbling ability.

He then came off the bench against the Welsh at half-time to score twice which brought the teams level.

Noonan scored again to put Ireland ahead in the final game against Northern Ireland.

He showed his ability to pop up in big moments while being a focal point of the attack throughout.

Grady McDonnell (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Despite not starting against Scotland or Wales, McDonnell made sure to impress off the bench.

Twice, he drove down the right side of the box against Wales, and twice he won penalties to help Ireland back into the game.

McDonnell, who has previously represented Canada at underage level, constantly beat players on the dribble (in similar style to another Ireland underage star, Ike Orazi) 

He then capped off a great tournament by scoring early on against Northern Ireland in his only start.

The sheer number of players playing well meant manager Paul Osam could never be fully sure of his best eleven, but you would have to think McDonnell has his name nailed down for the next games. He was fabulous.