Conor McCloskey

Year: 2007.

Position: Right Wing.

Team: Junior.

Manager: Paul Ritchie .

 What do you remember?

“Well, firstly getting on the squad was brilliant. I had felt comfortable enough in the trials but it was great to get picked. The only thing was it was a little bit awkward because I had booked a holiday to go away for two weeks, so I had to come back a week early! I really enjoyed the whole experience. The training was brilliant, the double sessions on a Saturday is something you are not used to. When you come from local football to representing your County you notice the difference. Everything was prepared for you. I had been away on trial with clubs in England prior to the tournament, but only for a week so it was the first time I got to experience what it could be like as a professional. We were very well prepared as a team, and had spent months working on different things, like shape and set pieces, which was great. We had a strong bunch of lads, and everyone got on well. On top of that there were a couple of really good individual players like Aaron Burns at left back, who now plays for Linfield and Phillip Mcgrath who went on to sign for Oldham. The pre-tournament trip to Dublin was brilliant as well, and gave us a good platform to do well at the Milk Cup. Again it was the professionalism that stood out, everyone getting up at the same time, having breakfast together and then obviously the craic amongst the boys. Down there we played 3 games, one of whom was against St. Kevins who had Robbie Brady now of Hull City and Jeff Hendrick who plays for Derby playing. As for the Milk Cup week the first thing that stands out is the parade. You are mixing with lads who are from full time football. The likes of Chelsea, who had Josh Mceachran in their side and Manchester United who had Danny Welbeck in their ranks. Thousands of people were on the streets, cheering, plus you get to see all the international players and of course you hope one day that you can follow in their footsteps. The first game was the toughest. We played Macabi Haifa who were a professional side. They had some quality players who were technically very strong. It was something we weren’t used to, and it was a great test. Those players had the benefit of top-notch coaching over a prolonged period of time and they certainly reaped the benefit of it. Playing against better players, you realise you have to up your game and on a personal note, you want to play well in every game, and I was very fortunate that my performances led to trials and ultimately representing my country. The other thing was that it really benefitted my game I learned a lot about during that week.”

 

Favourite memory: “We were unlucky with a number of results and ended up playing in the bottom competition. We played Brondby from Sweden in the final and we beat them 2-0 that was my favourite memory. They were another professional team and were very good technically. It was very important for everyone that we got the win. Paul Ritchie was great with myself, and Phillip McGrath. He helped me out a lot and really believed in me and gave me confidence. As well I do think there an opportunity for a County team to win the Junior Milk Cup. The lads who play professional football experience tournaments like the Milk Cup on a yearly basis, but for kids from Northern Ireland it is something that is so special. “

 

Since the Milk Cup: I signed for Colchester United and moved over when I finished school. I was there for three years and it was the best time of my life. Full time football, waking up every day knowing that you were going to play football was just a dream really, and it was unfortunate that it came to and end. Football is a game of opinions, and I wasn’t the sort of player the new manager was looking for. That is just the way it goes. I then played some non-league football with Braintree Town before moving home and signing for Portadown. I spent the last three years at Carrick, which has been brilliant. We have a really strong team and ran Crusaders and Cliftonville close in the cups. It was an incredible run, from the victory in the Steel and Sons to lifting the league title and the intermediate cup.