Author Archives: Andrew McCullough

2018 story of the tournament

2018 will go down as the year when County Down made massive strides forward in the SuperCupNI with the Premier team contesting finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds for the first time.

The juniors boys enjoyed a memorable experience too, from twice defeating English academy side Charlton Athletic to coming close to qualifying for the semi-finals of the main tournament themselves.

See here for a look back at the week when 36 boys dared to dream on the north coast.

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Bailie full of praise for his side


The SuperCupNI final proved to be a game too far for John Bailie’s Premier team, leaving the manager to wonder what might have been for his squad:

“Friday night was tinged with disappointment. We had done ever so well, and you always go into a final hoping that the boys are going to deliver. But B Italia were very good, and they were very good from the first minute and just didn’t let us settle. They played the game very well while we struggled for long periods. I don’t think we performed to our best, but to give credit to them, they didn’t let us perform either.

“It was the end of the week and we had four games were we were flat to the mat. B Italia on the other hand had been winning games 5-0 and a 3-0 and perhaps had been able to rest players and alternate a bit better than we have. We had the same eleven starting on Monday night and Thursday night and we were asking that same team to do a huge job in the final too. Perhaps I could have used the squad a bit more, but that’ll be for others to debate.”

How good was this year’s Premier squad?

“This year’s squad is probably the best I’ve had and I’ve seen some good players play for us. If there’s one disappointment from the week, it’s that I know how good they are and I know they have it in them to play better that the final showed. Perhaps that’s high expectations, but our guys can really play. There are six to eight players in that team who are really good.

“I said it from the outset, at our parents night, that this is the best squad I could have assembled. I said we’d do well, which sometimes doesn’t happen because of the draw or something else. But the boys have come through some tough games during the week and I think when we reflect on it, we should all be very proud of what we achieved. The kids will have learned how to prepare for situations like this in the future, because asking kids to play five games in five days is a massive ask.

Backed up by a great team:

“I always say that a manager is only as good as his players, and his coaches and while I’m the one out barking orders, I’m always backed up by a good squad of people. Davy and Peter and Carter have been superb, right through the training process everything I’ve needed has been done. They make my life and my job easy.

“Nigel the physio deserves a massive thanks as he’s had to run after both juniors and premiers all week and with that massive ask, he’s done a fantastic job for us. John Wilton is probably one of the most professional kitmen I’ve ever worked with. He was at Ards when I played there and nothing has changed about how professional he is and it was good to see him taking on [goalkeeper coach] Carter as his apprentice during the week!”

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Junior manager reflects

2018 was the first year at the helm of the Junior team for Gary McAlister and we asked his reflections on the tournament following the last game.

“It was great to sign off with a win – that’ll be the last memory the lads have of the tournament. It was great to come away with a comfortable 3-0 win. If I’m honest, and I told the lads after the last game – we really had ups and downs this week, and that’s what the SuperCup is about. We’ve been in there testing ourselves against top teams and some days you’re going to be at 100%, other days the boys will be tired and things aren’t going to go your way.

“But it you look at things all together; we’ve kept two clean sheets, only conceded four goals while scoring seven – all from different scorers. The team have played with a lot of confidence and I’m really proud of them. I’ll always remember this group as the first team I’ve managed at the SuperCup.

“It’s always going to be difficult at this tournament. We played three games against opposition that you don’t really know much about and all you can manage is your own team. We went out on the Monday and were absolutely outstanding. Tuesday had us trying and trying to break down a really stubborn team and on Wednesday tiredness had set in and got the better of us.

“But by the semi-final against Chivas the boys had lifted it again and it was heart-breaking to lose the way we did, but I couldn’t have asked for a drop more effort than we got. In our last game, the boys went out and showed what they could do again. By Friday both teams were tired but we showed that we had the quality to go and finish the game off and get a comfortable win.”

Thoughts on the team he assembled:

“I was delighted to see our senior team make the final. I spent three years with that side and enjoyed it but managing this junior team is still where I would want to be. I’ve been able to watch these lads come in and enjoy themselves this week, generate interest from scouts and built rapport with each other. Some of these boys wouldn’t have played at this level before. We rolled the dice with some of the players we picked, but they’ve all done us proud and it’s been a really great week for us all. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Highlight of the week:

“The highlight for me came on Monday when we beat Charlton. To go up against a pro team and  see the lads execute everything we asked them to was outstanding. To start the week like that was fantastic. For a group of players that we only have for eight weeks and we’re trying to teach them a style that we want to play and to see them get it and execute it – as a coach and a manager, I can’t ask for any more than that.”

Nobody does it alone:

“The team behind me have been outstanding. I’ve not had to worry about the kit and equipment because Sean has been everywhere, two hours early usually. Nigel our physio has worked back and forth across both teams, making sure the boys are in the best shape they could be in.

“The coaches, Lewis and Michael, and John on the side-lines with me giving a different viewpoint, have been invaluable. They’ve all been great and they’ve all helped keep me sane! A manager needs people like that around him and these guys have been the perfect team.”

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2018 awards presentations

At the close of the tournament we invited parents and family members to join us as we celebrated the 36 boys who represented County Down at this year’s SuperCupNI. Each player was presented with a SuperCupNI participation medal, while individual awards were made for the each team. Those winners were as follows:

Junior player of the tournament – Joe Hopes
Junior top goal-scorers (1 goal) – Jonah Heron, Ben Hollinger, Jay Boyd, Matthew Lusty, Reece Doyle, Jamie McDarby & Lewis Davidson
Nevin Spence Award – Scott Rolleston

Premier player of the tournament – Jake Corbett
Premier top goal-scorers (3 goals) – Adam Carroll & Jake Corbett
McCloskey Cup – Ruari O’Hare

At the culmination of the week, chairman Paul Ritchie congratulated the boys on their magnificent effort and thanked all those parents who had given their support, not just during the tournament but since the team selections had been made. Thanks was also given to the backroom teams for each squad, as well as the committee members who worked in the back ground to ensure a successful week. Finally, Paul gave his thanks to county sponsors Decathlon Belfast, Ridgeway, CCL Interiors and Neeson Chambers Solicitors and to each of the local businesses who sponsored individual players.

We hope you enjoyed watching our teams this season and hope to see many of you back next year.

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Jake Corbett – County player of the tournament

Jake Corbett present with the County player of the tournament award. Pic: Brian Lyttle/Presseye

Congratulations to Premier team player Jake Corbett who was named the 2018 SuperCupNI County player of the tournament.

The midfielder was presented with his award following Friday night’s Premier final. Jake also picked up the Bertie Peacock Bursery for his contribution to the tournament.

By virtue of reaching the final, the Down Premier team claimed the award of most successful Irish team, an award that was collected by captain Dylan Stewart.

Dylan Stewart receives the award for Best Irish Team 2018 Pic: Brian Lyttle/Presseye

Jake Corbett win the Bertie Peacock Bursery award Pic: Brian Lyttle/Presseye

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SuperCupNI Final: Premiers 0-2 B Italia

The 2018 Premier squad with their runners up medals

There was no fairytale ending for the Down Premier team’s first ever appearance in the SuperCupNI final, as John Bailie’s boys succumbed to a very strong B Italia side.

The Down side were unable to emulate what the Antrim Juniors had done just hours before on finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds and so leave the north coast with no trophy but a lot of memories and a lot of new admirers.

A tense start to the game soon gave way to a period of sustained pressure from B Italia. On 11 minutes Dylan Stewart had to be quick off his line to block the advances of Iannone Carmine.

A minute later and Stewart was called on to make an even better stop when Carmine slammed in a shot from close range.

The Down lines were then breached fully on 17 minutes when Kevin Salvatore nipped through a gap in the defence to poke the ball into the top corner.

Down had been getting little respite but with 32 minutes gone they finally carved an opening at the other end. Sub Ben Cushnie raced into the area and as the goalkeeper committed, the chance was on but a heavy touch took the ball away from Cushnie and the opening was gone.

Down rang the changes early in the second half in an attempt to getting a footing in the game, but in truth this wasn’t the county’s best performance of the week and the Italians’ composure never looked like faltering.

A couple of half chances did eventually come for Down but on neither occasion could Eoin Rooney get on the end of inviting crosses.

B Italia doubled their lead with a memorable strike on 61 minutes. There looked little in the offing when Bingo Marco stepped into the ball 30 or so yards out but his connection on the half volley sent the ball soaring over keeper Stewart to kill off any hopes Down might have had of a comeback.

DOWN: Stewart (Carry 64), Smith, Conlon, Gemmell (Rooney 47), O’Hare, Weatherup, Corbett, Carroll (Curran 63), Dinu (Teggart 53), Glover (McVeigh 63), Wynne (Cushnie 25)

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Juniors heading home

Junior presentations finished at The Lodge and 18 boys heading for home. Thanks to every one for their professionalism, dedication and togetherness, and to all their families for their support during this week and from the start of the campaign.

We hope you leave here with memories that will last a lifetime. This was your #DownDream18

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Juniors 3-0 Charlton Athletic

Joshua Archer leads the team on the last day

The Junior team claimed third place in the Vase competition as they got the better of Charlton for the second time this week.

The week ended on a high for Gary McAllister’s team as goals from Jay Boyd, Reece Doyle and Ben Hollinger earned the 3-0 win.

The game had that Friday feeling about it for much of the first half as the players enjoyed the Portrush sunshine but the crowd were treated to little in the way of goalmouth action. A 7th minute shot from Charlton’s Jeremiah Medine that Ryan Dalzell saved comfortably was about the best of the early action.

On 29 minutes Charlton were awarded a penalty when a free kick struck the arm of Jamie McDarby. Dylan Gavin failed to make the keeper work however when he rolled the spot kick by the left post.

Down took full advantage a minute later to go in ahead at the break. A shot from Jay Boyd may not have been on target until the Charlton keeper parried the ball into the air and then failed to stop it carrying on into the net.

Five changes from Down at the break injected fresh legs and the side doubled the lead on 43 minutes. A corner from the right wasn’t dealt with in the Charlton area and when the ball broke loose Reece Doyle was on hand to thump it in.

Both teams were reduced to ten men on ’47 following an off the ball altercation. Down’s James Clarke and Charlton’s Jeremy Santos were the players to go.

The game’s third goal came on 52 minutes. A great pass from Bailey Locke wide on the right round Ben Hollinger and he stepped around a defender before dispatching the ball high into the net.

So the competition comes to an end for the juniors, who can be proud of their record of three wins, a draw and a defeat from their five games.

DOWN: Dalzell (Pauley h/t), Hopes, Rolleston, Archer, MacDonald (Davidson h/t), Madine (Hollinger h/t), Doyle (Magee 48), Clarke, McDarby (Locke h/t), Heron (McKibbin 54), Boyd (Lusty h/t)

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John Bailie looks ahead to final

Following Thursday’s win over Club America to reach the final of the SuperCupNI, we caught up with Premier manager John Bailie. These are his thought ahead of Friday night’s game.

“We’d played Club America in the past and they’re a very good side. But we’d also noticed that for some reason they’ve always fallen short. That said, I never expected the game to be as comfortable in the first half. We went in at half time one up, had looked threatening from set pieces and they hadn’t had a shot on goal.

“Now we knew that it wasn’t going to stay that way and of course they threw bodies forward in the second half and had us pinned back for long periods. They missed some chances, and we rode our luck too at times.

“I have to give full credit to our lads, because they have worked so hard over the last six or seven weeks to come from where they started to here is phenomenal. The energy levels they showed tonight on this big pitch were fantastic, after already playing three games.

“We haven’t changed our team a lot, which is sometimes the nature of tournament football. I know there are two or three kids who didn’t take part tonight, but they have played a huge part as well up to now and contributed to where we are.

“I was asked after Monday’s draw [with Newcastle] if we were delighted and I said that it was the opposite, because we were winning the game right until the end. There was a real feeling of disappointment in the changing room and we had a hard job to pick the players up from that.

“So from that game and from being 2-0 down at half time on Tuesday to where we are now, it’s been a phenomenal two and half games.

“The kids needed no motivation today and it’ll be same on Friday. We’ve had to say very little this week. The staff have taken themselves away from the boys, left them to themselves to rest and prepare in their own way. Their attitude and behaviour has been fantastic and they’ve all looked after themselves. We name the team and go through the set pieces but after that it’s all been down to them.

“They knew what the game against Newcastle on Wednesday meant in terms of qualification. It’s almost been like a quarter final and semi-final these last two days. They’ve been very aware of the occasion and the chance to make history and become the first County Down team to get to a final and they’ve done that. So full credit to them.”

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