Leicester trio make their mark for Irish Under-17s

by Dave Donnelly

It was a proud week for Leicester Celtic when three former schoolboy players were named in the Ireland Under-17 squad for the friendly double-header with Turkey.

Gavin Bazunu started both games and Zak Delaney played once, while Zak Funge was also involved as Ireland comfortably won both games at Tallaght Stadium.

One particularly interested spectator was Mick O’Brien who was the three boys’ coach up to Under-11 level at the Loreto club before they went their separate ways.

Bazunu returned to Shamrock Rovers, where he has now broken into the first team, Funge to St Kevin’s Boys, while Delaney went to St Francis before moving over to West Brom.

Bazunu will conclude a half-million euro transfer to Manchester City shortly, and O’Brien is not surprised in the least to see all three 16-year-olds progress so far in their young careers.

“From the first day I saw him, Gavin was just an astonishing keeper. You’d never seen anything like it,” O’Brien told the Dublin Gazette.

“I was telling all my friends and family about this kid Gavin – just wait until you see this kid. I’ve never seen reflexes like it in my life, and he has really good feet.

“That’s probably why he’s attracted so much attention from England because the modern-day goalkeeper has to be able to play with the ball at his feet.

“From a very early age, you could see that Gavin had something special.”

Ballinteer native Funge and Delaney, from Ballycullen, are both athletic, ball-playing defenders in the modern mould – Funge at centre-half and Delaney at left-back.

“Zak is probably your modern-day full back in that he’d spend more time attacking than defending.

“He was probably the biggest surprise because his technical ability in the space of about two years, from 13 to 15, turned him into a completely different player.

“He’s at West Brom now – that shows it all. He’s six foot plus and can run the 100 metres in no time – he’s the modern footballer.”

Key to the development of all three for O’Brien – who now manages the club’s Under-19s – is the support of families who never pushed them.

“There’s parents out there that will just push and push their kid and want them to be the superstar. That wasn’t the case with the lads – their parents were really supportive.

“I would have dealt with Zack’s father Aidan, who would have played with Leicester Celtic all his life, and his grandfather was Brian Delaney who was one of the chairmen.

“Gavin’s parents were really supportive and never put him under pressure. From what I hear now, they’ve put a huge emphasis on his education.

“There are so many parents now who will chase the glory. The fact the boys have two good parents each is the reason they’ve gone so far, and it’s why they’ll go further.”

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