Preparations for this year’s edition of the Centenary Shield are well underway for the Scotland Schoolboys Under 18s ahead of the tournament kicking off next month.
The yearly competition, which takes place between 3rd March and 6th April, is currently held by last year’s winners England. They have had the final say in much of the recent tournaments, winning four of the last six Centenary Shields, with the exceptions being Ireland in 2015 and Northern Ireland in 2013.
Set up in 1973 by the Scottish FA to commemorate their centenary year, the competition was last won outright by the Scots in 2000, whilst they also become joint winners with Northern Ireland in 2011. Scotland have also won the competition on three previous occasions prior to 2000.
Scotland have so far played a series of friendlies in the last few months to get up to speed and gel as a side, the first of them coming against Alloa back in December at Toryglen, in a tight affair which finished 1-1.
Soon after, early February rolled around and Scotland faced Australia in their first international friendly, at New Western Park. This friendly was considerably more exciting than the last, as the two sides played out a 3-3 thriller in Renfrew. Scotland’s goals that day came courtesy of Luc Bollan and Ciaran Dunne, who scored the second of his double with a penalty, deep into injury-time.
Later in the month Scotland played their penultimate friendly before kicking the tournament off against England on the 5th March, as they ran out convincing winners in a 5-0 demolition of Sporting Futures USA. In their first win since playing together, Scotland had four different goalscorers on the day, with Dunne, Sweeney, Ballantyne and Brown contributing to the healthy and much-needed win.
With a final friendly to follow on 21st February against Stirling University, Scotland will be full of confidence heading into their opening game of the tournament at Cappielowe, as they seek to beat ‘The Auld Enemy’ for the first time since 2011; on that occasion, they ran out 1-0 winners in Inverness.
After the opening contest against England, Scotland then travel to Bala on 17th March to face a Welsh side who they have toppled in two of their last three meetings, winning 5-1 and 2-1 respectively. However, the Welsh won the last meeting of the two, last year in Inverurie, running out victors by the solitary goal.
Scotland wrap up the tournament with ties against Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, travelling to Belfast on the 31st of March, before hosting the latter in Stirling a week later, the final match of the tournament.
The vast majority of Scotland’s side all hail from different schools from across Scotland, varying from Dundee to Glasgow and Stranraer to Dunblane. Stewart Melville’s College in Edinburgh is the one of the only places to boast two players, those being Cieran Dunne and Nathan Brown, both goalscorers in recent friendlies. The other school which contains more than one player is Graeme High School in Falkirk, where Ross Connelly and Kyle Banner both attend.
Kieran Sweeney is undoubtedly one of the main goal threats for the Scots. The striker, who attends St.Kentigern's Academy in Blackburn, has found the back of the net on three occasions thus far for his side in friendlies, with a brace against Sporting Futures USA to add to his equaliser against Alloa at the back end of last year.
Cieran Dunne is also tied with Sweeney for most goals in friendlies up until now. The Stewart Melville’s College student bagged a double against Australia at the start of the month, as well as opening the scoring in the rout against Sports Futures a few weeks later.
Scotland may head into the competition as underdogs, but if they display some of the quality already shown in recently friendlies then they may stand a chance of breaking their drought.
The Scotland squad for the 2017 Centenary Shield is as follows: