The dust settled on another year of Northern Ireland’s premier youth football tournament, the SuperCupNI last Friday, with County Down’s teams reflecting on another enjoyable week.
The County’s junior team reached the final of the Bowl competition, losing out to Middlesbrough in the decider, while the premier team also finished runner’s up in their own Bowl mini-league.
The 36 players and 16 staff in attendance experienced six days of highs and lows, from the traditional parade of teams through Coleraine on Sunday evening to the Premier side’s last minute loss to Fermanagh and the Junior boys’ shootout win against Swindon Town. Here’s a look back at how the week unfolded for each team.
Under the guidance of Ards coach David Bryson, the junior team began their competition against Dublin based Cherry Orchard on Monday. Some early nerves were obvious as the team fell behind and then conceded again in the second half to open their campaign with a loss.
Tuesday afternoon then saw an all-County meeting at Ballymena Showgrounds as Down faced Antrim. In front of the BBC cameras a single goal from James McKee on three minutes inflicted a second defeat on the side.
The next day saw Chilean visitors Colina provide little resistance as the Down team chalked up a comfortable 2-0 win in Castlerock thanks to goals from Benji Magee and a thunderous free kick by Eoin Teggart. The win allowed the team to creep into 16 place in the table and earn a place in the Bowl semi-final.
That match took place on Thursday against Swindon Town in Clough. First half goals from Aaron Brown and Aidan Steele had the juniors cruising, only to concede twice after the break to draw 2-2. That forced the match into a penalty shootout with goalkeeper Ryan Dalzell proving the hero as he saved two spots kicks prior to Steele knocking in the winner.
The on field action would then culminate with the Bowl final against Middlesbrough in Broughshane. Ultimately it would prove a match too far for the boys and they fell 4-0 against the English academy side, but heads remained firmly up at the end in reflection on hugely memorable week.
Hopes were high for the U17 side as they opened their tournament against American tourists First Choice Soccer. On a sunny afternoon in Portrush, Down took the lead through an early Tom Mathieson penalty only to concede an equaliser in the second half for the match to end in a fair draw.
Portstewart was the setting for Tuesday’s meeting with French outfit Vendee with this game going down as what might have been for the County side. After missing a host of first half chances, the match ended in a disappointing scoreless draw against the ten men of Vendee, making qualification seem unlikely.
Wednesday evening’s thrilling meeting with Fermanagh took place in heavy rain with Down twice going in front following goals from Tom Mathieson and a Callum Ferris penalty. Fermanagh made sure they stayed in the match however until as late as the final minute when Callum Jones scored a free kick to win the tie 3-2. In the moments that followed Ferris was red carded to cap a disappointing night.
That meant a place in the six-team Bowl competition on Thursday and Friday, with the first game played against Japanese side Komazawa in Ballymoney. The team would show great spirit to twice come from behind and earn a draw thanks to strikes from Cai Gemmell and Adam McAleenan.
Friday’s final outing saw the Premier boys play Londonderry in Castlerock. Having trailed 1-0 for most of the match the Down team rallied in the second half to stage a comeback and goals from James McCarthy and Callum Ferris won the game and earned the boys the runners’ up spot in the mini-league.
Friday afternoon’s presentations took place back at the Lodge Hotel where the group had been so well looked after throughout the week. In front of dozens of parents the following individual awards were made. See more here
Committee chairman Paul O’Kane reflected on the 2017 campaign by thanking all of those who had worked so hard on behalf of the boys, from coaches and committee members to parents and the numerous sponsors whose contributions made the whole thing possible.