Attention turns to Interpros
THE schools soccer season is almost upon us and, while secondary school students up and down the country are preparing for an assault on some of the most prestigious trophies in the Irish game, representative opportunities are something all players should have in the back of their minds.
The Senior Cup and Junior Cup are just two examples of competitions that add prestige to a successful school's name and present players with a winner's medal as valuable as any at the very top of schoolboy club soccer.
However, there is an accolade perhaps even more valuable to be earned during a schools soccer calendar for competing players -- an international cap.
A place on the FAI Schools Boys Under-18 international side and the FAI Schools Girls Under-15 international side is something only the best of the best achieve, but the beauty of schools soccer is that every year the conveyer belt must produce a new batch.
Ireland's schoolboys and schoolgirls hold formidable records at the annual Centenary Shield and Bob Docherty competitions respectively, but to get that far players must impress for their provinces first.
Presenting another chance to win a prestigious competition, the annual Boys' and Girls' Interprovincial Series are a competitive trial for the year's international squads.
This year's boys' event is up first and Leinster manager Paddy O'Reilly will look to build a side capable of winning an 11th title in 13 years over the weekend of October 14-16 in Athlone.
Girls' manager Paul Howard will look to mould a group worthy of dethroning reigning champions Ulster over the weekend of November 11-13, also in Athlone.
In fact, even though the original draws for this year's girls' provincial cups have not even been made, Howard has already begun his search for the newest talent.
"Because our team is aimed at the under-15s, it really is worth schools keeping an eye out for young girls in first, second and third year who could possibly be good enough to make this grade," said Howard.
"I would work closely with two women's Regional Development Officers and send a letter out to all the schools in Leinster just letting them know what the set-up is about and what we are looking for.
"Obviously I would also speak to club and Gaynor Cup managers, as the best players usually play both levels, but basically we want to make sure we explore all options to give all players an opportunity.
"I would be very much in favour of giving everybody a chance but because schools must nominate players to us it can be limited.
"I personally think that even players from non-affiliated schools who don't have a soccer team and focus on other sports shouldn't fall through the cracks.
"We are having trials at the moment looking at players and obviously we couldn't look at everyone during trials so we do rely on schools and managers recommending players of the required level.
"But the most important thing is that they do that if they think they have a particularly talented player and at the very least we can look at the player and give them a chance to impress.
"Obviously we all want to win the eventual Interprovincial Series each year but the most important thing is that we produce players for the Ireland Under-15 side competing in the spring.
"Leinster actually do have a great record of success at the Interpros but, despite last year not being one of our better ones, we did produce numerous players who did really well for Ireland, so it's important that people remember that."