County preview series – Bailie relishes intriguing draw for Down

County Down’s Premier manager is raring to go after his side were handed a “brilliant draw” for the SuperCupNI 2023.

John Bailie, who has been part of the tournament for 14 years, is excited to face newcomers Brighton Hove Albion, Surf Select and Tigres UANL, as his Down side look to leave their mark in this year’s tournament.

Co Down’s SuperCupNI 2022 squad pictured in Portrush

He said: “It’s a brilliant draw but it is a tough draw, but as I said, I’d much rather the players and coaches are tested against these types of teams, than go and play a southern team or a fellow county.

“Obviously the three teams; the Mexican team, American team and Brighton are three different tests but certainly it’ll give our guys a wonderful opportunity to showcase what they have and to show how close or how far away they are from that level of football.”

Down’s selection process was delayed due to many of the players in the county having an extended club season, and when this process began Bailie, and his staff had many hard decisions to make.

“It’s always tough because all the counties can cover a wide area,” he said.

“I think this year we trialled over 160 players for the Premier team and 120 for the Juniors.

“You’re working across quite a wide landscape, it becomes difficult and it really does come down to personal choice and personal decisions.

“Everybody wouldn’t pick the same squad and you’re trying to mould together a group that can compete and do well in a week-long period.”

Co Down were narrowly beaten by a strong B Italia side in the 2018 Premier Section final

The 48-year-old believes the tournament isn’t always about success and tries to mould the youngsters into players who act in the right way.

He said: “I’ve been involved with the county for about 14 years and when I was brought on board in the early days it was always kind of drummed into you the discipline side of things and you had to represent the county well and that’s the tradition that we tried to follow.

“We try to embrace the tournament for all its qualities, and we encourage our kids, our players to show respect to the opposition, show respect to the referees and play the game in a sporting manner.

“But ultimately, sometimes you fall short and sometimes you have to be big enough and understand that for whatever reason, you just weren’t good enough on that day.

“Rather than accept it, learn from it, but learn from it in the right manner and show the right mannerisms.

“It’s probably something we try and teach them over this next six weeks is to learn how to win, but also learn how to lose games.”

Bailie, a former manager of Ards FC and was keen to point out the tough physical task the week brings for the players and how coaching over the course of a whole season differs to the tournament structure.

Co Down’s 2018 Premier Section side

He said: “It’s an incredibly tough week and as I say, when you mention how it differs from being a club manager, your squad would be different.

“You’re picking a squad you only need for one week, so you’re not really looking at longevity and you are really looking at players with regards to where they are at now.

“You’re basically saying, what can I get out of them and what can I teach them?

“What can I learn them over the next six weeks?

“Because that’s all you have with them.

“You’re not looking at players saying I’ve the next two years with this kid, how do I develop them, what can I work on?

“You have a short window and that’s why your squad could differ from if you were a club manager.

“You’re trying to make sure that you always tell your squad that you need to go with a mindset that you want to play five games and you need to go prepare to play five games in five days, which is a tremendous ask.

“When the players are there, it is important they get the right rest and they eat right.

“That’s probably the most difficult part because young players are excited, they’re enthusiastic, they’re away from their Mums and Dads for a week.

“They’re with a group of friends who they get on well with and they’re being treated like a professional footballer for a week.

“It’s about getting those excitement levels to a level where they can get the right rest and eat the right food to give them the best opportunity.”

Bailie, who played in the tournament with Bloomfield FC and who also now fulfils the role of chairman of County Down, believes the tournament has a real family feel to it.

“It’s brilliant,” he said.

“I’ve been involved the last 14 years and my family now have grown up with the tournament in a strange way because my daughters eight and she talks about her summer holiday at tournament.

“My son’s 15 and he’s been going since he was four and my other daughter’s now 21, and again she’s sees it the same.

“It’s been part of their yearly tradition now where it’s something that they look forward to and trust me they all don’t love football.

“But they see a sense of togetherness, they see a lot of people that they know they maybe haven’t seen in a while.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get together, spend some time together with people that maybe haven’t seen as much as they would like over the months.”

The Down Junior side, which is led by Sammy McFadden kick off their tournament with a derby clash against County Tyrone. Day two sees the Mournemen face Canadian newcomers Prospects 2 Pro Academy and their third and final game is a clash against English regulars West Ham United.

Write up by Stuart McCracken