By Ronan Murphy
Reading FC has long been a great breeding ground for young Irishmen, seeing players such as Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Stephen and Noel Hunt rise through the ranks at the Madejski Stadium. Current manager Brian McDermott has continued that tradition, most recently snapping up Karl Sheppard from Shamrock Rovers and Pierce Sweeney from Bray Wanderers.
Sweeney's move is notable due to the fact that the centre back has yet to turn 18, but yet has secured a move to a Premier League club. Sweeney's rise has been meteoric as he only made his League of Ireland debut in March.
A former Ardmore Rovers junior player, Sweeney then moved to renowned Dublin club Belvedere FC, the former home of Keith Treacy, Stephen Kelly, and Wes Hoolahan, where he lifted the Paul McGrath Cup in 2011. His performances helped seal the move to Bray, where Sweeney quickly became captain of the club's under-19 side before being promoted to the senior squad for the Setanta Sports Cup tie with Glentoran in February.
|PIERCE SWEENEY | Reading, Defender, 17
A former schools and U15 international, Sweeney was one of four Belvedere players in John Morling's Ireland U17 squad for the 2011 Uefa European Under-17 Championship qualifiers alongside Sean Kavanagh, Gareth Brady and Darragh Lenihan. However, when Sweeney was given his first start in a green jersey against Italy in a friendly in Nardo, the teenager was forced off injured after just half an hour and thus failed to break into the first team.
After the move to the Carlisle Grounds, Paul Doolin promoted Sweeney to the U18 squad, where he made his debut at Ferrycarrig Park, starting against Wales. This time, the Bray defender played the full 90 minutes and impressed with an assured display in defence.
During his 12 appearances for the Seagulls, Sweeney won plaudits for his excellent performances; his ability to read the game and make crucial interceptions made him stand out in a leaky Bray defence.
Sweeney earned praise from Bray Director of Football Pat Devlin when he left for the Madejski Stadium. “We are sorry to lose Pierce as he has been a very consistent performer since he joined us and he has worked extremely hard since the start of the season. But this is a fantastic opportunity for a young player and everybody in Bray Wanderers wishes him the very best," he told the official Bray Wanderers website.
Sweeney made his first appearance for the Royals in last week's pre-season friendly with Didcot Town, keeping a clean sheet for the 45 minutes he was on the pitch.