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Brothers with a Sporting chance

TWO Irish teenagers from the midlands are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo and win a contract with Portuguese giants Sporting Libson.

Offaly-born brothers Daryl (16) and Jamie (15) O'Connor are this week doing the same things as boys their age, trying to get homework finished and carry on with life as normal - but on Sunday the pair will head for Portugal and a week-long trial with Sporting which, they hope, could lead to a ground-breaking move.

The trial was arranged for the Edenderry brothers by their coach at Offaly club Derry Rovers, Manuel Charana, who is Portuguese and spent time at Sporting at the start of his career under Bobby Robson, though his own playing career was cut short by injury and he's been based in Offaly for the past 10 years.


Charana, who came through the ranks at Sporting in a four-year apprenticeship, and went on to play in England for Stockport County, says the competition is fierce at a club like Sporting but he feels that his young Irish prospects have a chance.

"This is a great opportunity for them to go and see how they can get on at a club like Sporting, and they have a chance of doing well and maybe getting a contract there. I would not be recommending them to the club if I didn't think they were capable," Charana told the Herald this week.

As a Manchester United fan, Daryl already has some idea of what to expect in Lisbon. "Sporting are a massive club, they've brought through players like Ronaldo and Nani, Figo was there as well so they have worked with some of the best players in the world," Daryl says.

"So I know it's a big step-up for an Irish lad to go over there and try to make it, to follow the same footsteps as someone like Ronaldo, but I am willing to try it and see how myself and Jamie can do."

Daryl is a central midfielder who models himself on Old Trafford heroes like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and the sixth year student admits that it's been difficult this week to concentrate on his studies for the Leaving Cert as the trial in Lisbon edges closer.

"It's not easy to put your mind fully on school work when you know the trial is coming up but I am doing my best. And hopefully school will help as I have done Spanish in school and because it's a bit like Portuguese it should help me when I get over there," added Daryl, who plays Gaelic football for his club in Edenderry and was also on the panel with the county's U15 side.

Like Daryl, Jamie is a central midfielder and although he's a Liverpool supporter, he says Ronaldo is one of his idols and he's praying that the trial in Lisbon can lead to a contract.

"All I wanted to be was a professional footballer and this could give me a chance," says Jamie, a transition year student

"I feel a bit nervous now that the trial is coming closer but it's a great opportunity and I want to do as well as I can."

The pair will fly out to Portugal on Sunday and spend four days training at Sporting's youth academy and the trial will boost their profile as well as that of their club.

"A lot of work has gone into developing players like the two boys, so it's nice to see that recognised," says Derry Rovers chairman Pat McBride. "We're trying to develop our facilities all the time and it's not easy, but we have people like Manuel and John Aldridge who are keen to help us and it's a great opportunity."

A batch of Irish boys make the move to clubs in England and Scotland every summer, each one of them hoping to make the grade across the water, but very few -- if any -- Irish-born kids get to try their luck at the academy of a continental club.


Youngsters such as Conor McCormack, Michael Collins and Conor Morrissey have all spent time with Italian side Triestina in recent seasons but were unable to make an impact in the first team at the now-defunct club. Two years ago, Athlone lad Brian McCarthy had a trial with Atletico Madrid but was not offered a deal.

Irish players such as Alan Mahon, Dominic Foley and Padraig Amond have played in Portugal in recent years but they were all experienced at the time of their move.

Charana hopes that his discoveries can break the mould.

"Sporting have scouts on every continent and they only bring in the best of the best but I think Daryl and Jamie have a chance," he says.

"They both have a good touch, a great attitude and they have real talent."