Last year County Londonderry’s Juniors produced one of the biggest upsets in recent years when Lee Harkin inspired them to a famous 2-1 win over Manchester United at the Coleraine Showgrounds on opening night.
Junior manager Martin Smith is back in charge once again this summer and he said the class of 2019 are keen to make even more history this summer.
“Last summer was incredible, to defeat Manchester United and Rangers in the space of three days was something special.
“However, we want to move on from 2018 and let this new group create their own piece of history.”
Smith’s side open their campaign with a tie against tournament regulars Plymouth Argyle. Day two will see the Derry youngsters face the might of English giants Arsenal, who are making their debut at the competition.
“The Arsenal game is obviously our big glamour tie, but we can’t focus on it alone. We know that we have a tough game against Plymouth to open the competition and we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves.”
Their third and final fixture will see an Ulster derby with Armagh providing a stern test for the Derry side.
“We will know what to expect from Armagh and we will be telling the boys that this game is just as important as the first two and we won’t underestimate them.”
Preparations are well underway as Smith and his backroom team prepare his 18 strong squad for five games in five days.
“We have just got our first full week of training under our belts. We’ve had to work with a few of our clubs as the likes of Coleraine were still in the middle of their league campaign right up until the end of May,” said Smith.
“Initially there was over 80 registered for the trials and it was a really hard process to get it whittled down to the final squad. There were some really difficult choices and we have had to leave out some really talented players.”
Smith admitted he is happy with the make up of his squad and said it is as strong a squad that Londonderry have selected in recent years.
“In 2018 we had some really stand out players and 2 or 3 who were leading lights. This year our squad is probably stronger overall. We’ve a lot strong and depth across the 18 players and we are all excited about the potential this group has.”
Smith admitted testing themselves against some of England’s finest and County rivals Armagh is a mouth-watering prospect.
“We will be working hard with the boys between now and July. We need to ensure they are physically, tactically and mentally prepared for the challenges that await them.
“We found last year that mentally it can be very draining. We went from the high of defeating Manchester United on the opening night and getting the boys back into the hotel and settled to then having to prepare to face Club NI the following afternoon is a real challenge.
“You have a few hours to get them fed, settled down and recovered. It is really intense, but it is an incredible experience.”
Smith said that everyone in the county setup are looking forward to the 2019 competition and he said that there is no doubt that the bar has been raised this summer.
“Since I’ve got involved the standard has improved year after year. You don’t see those sort of quality teams from across the world at any other tournament in the UK.
“It is an incredible opportunity for our local lads. Whether or not they go on any further in the game, all of the boys representing the county will look back on these sort of opportunities with fond memories.”
In the Premier section, Lee Guy’s charges also have a double English challenge. Londonderry have been placed in Group E with Newcastle United, Hull City and Edmonton FC from Canada, who will be looking to improve upon their 8th place finish in 2018.