Last Wednesday Noel King, Head Coach of the Irish U-21 international team, announced his squad for the first fixture of 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifiers. Ireland U-21's will take on Andorra on the 26th of March in the Regional Sports Centre in Waterford. The squad is available here. Paul Doolin, Head Coach of the Irish U-19 international team also announced his squad for the forthcoming UEFA U19 Championships Elite Qualifying Round. The U-19's will take on Czech Republic and Slovakia in Germany later this month. This squad is available here.
Over the past years, I have conducted research on Relative Age Effects in Irish soccer. A Relative Age Effect in sport occurs when there is a selection bias towards those born earlier in a registration period. Due to physical, psychological and social advantages older children in a cohort are more likely to be identified as talented, with the upshot being a skewed birth distribution of elite performers in youth sports.
In the case of soccer, as is with many other sports, a higher proportion of children born in the first quarter of the calendar year represent their country at an elite level - for the duration of their time as a youth player they compete against relatively younger children, benefitting from early maturation.
Below is the distribution of date of births for our latest U-19 and U-21 squads. Q1 refers to January to March Births, Q2 from April to June and so on. For both squads most of the selected players are born from January to March. 5 of the U-21 players are born in January (approx. 30% of the squad). Two thirds of the U-21 squad are born in the first half of the calendar year. Relative age issues do however seem to be less prevalent in the U-19 squad.
Food for thought for those watching on in Waterford later this month.