PORTMARNOCK FC were proud to see Conor Pepper become the first player to earn an underage international cap while still playing for the club in the recent Ireland U-16 internationals against the Belgian A and B sides.
Central midfielder Pepper has been with Portmarnock since U-10s and has also represented his local Gaelic football side Naomh Mearnóg. He was spotted playing for the North Dublin District Schoolboy League [NDSL] representative side and earned his call-up through an Emerging Talent Programme.
Club chairman Colin Quigley was delighted to see Pepper capped by Ireland and he feels it is a testament to the talent available that never gets acknowledged in the NDSL, which is often looked upon as being second to the Dublin and District Schoolboy Leage [DDSL].
'It's very unusual for somebody to be called up from the NDSL, but he's a good player, mobile, vision, he has all that going for him,' said Quigley. 'He has a good attitude and he's an athlete. He could have been a swimmer and he is a top Gaelic player too.'
Quigley feels Pepper's callup - as well as being a massive achievement for Portmarnock Football Club as a whole - should serve as a wake-up call to scouts that the NDSL is a strong league filled with players ready to make the step up.
'It's a huge thing for our football club and particularly for the fact that we're in the NDSL, and I think more people need to take more notice of the NDSL because there are smashing players in those leagues,' said Quigley.
'It [Pepper's call-up] puts the onus on them [scouts] to look around the NDSL because there are players as good if not better than Conor floating around the leagues.'
Quigley feels that the Portmarnock production line - which has seen players such as Wolverhampton Wanderers' Stephen Ward and Galway United's Karl Sheppard wear the gold of the club in their youth - will keep producing players capable of playing internationally and abroad.
'The club has the ethos of having a proper qualified coach at every age level, so they get a good grounding and we have that all the way up the age groups,' said Quigley.
'Plus, we have the facilities as well. We recently held a seven-a-side draw and received a lot of compliments from the parents because of the standard of our facilities.'
Pepper is part of the NDSL U-15 panel that will travel to Derry to participate in the Foyle Cup in July.