County preview series – McDowell confident Fermanagh Juniors will shine

Last summer County Fermanagh enjoyed one of their most successful years at the tournament. There were plenty of celebrations on the way home as the Premier side finishing 5th overall and the Junior side claimed a number of impressive wins against visiting teams.

Co Fermanagh came up against Co L’derry last year at Anderson Park, Coleraine

Junior manager Chris McDowell admitted his side have been placed in a ‘group of death’ this summer, but admitted his talented side will embrace the challenge.

“I was thinking outside of Rangers and West Ham who are the other three other teams you didn’t want to get or maybe you do want to get, and it was the three teams we were drawn out against but listen isn’t that what the tournament is all about!

“You go to the Super Cup to play against that sort of quality and it gives our lads a brilliant chance to showcase themselves, to show where they are at and even show where they need to progress and the level they need to get to.

“It’s fantastic to be honest with you, I was delighted to see it.”

Co Fermanagh’s SuperCupNI 2022 Junior Section squad

McDowell’s side will play St Mirren, Plymouth Argyle and Charlton Athletic across the opening three days of the tournament, but McDowell isn’t fazed by the quality they will face, focusing more on what his side can produce.

“I think for us as a county, we punch well above our weight and we have a lot of good talent, probably a lot of talent that is probably unseen a lot of the time,” he said.

“Our trial numbers showed that this year where we had 90 kids come out to trial and for all the size of Fermanagh it was great to see.

“The clubs do a brilliant job up with us, so I have to commend them because we’re getting players now, not just of technical quality but also of tactical knowledge as well, which is really pleasing.”

Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn and Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Ivor Wallace pictured with Bernie Darcy and Ernie Conlon from Co Fermanagh at the draw for this year’s tournament

This is McDowell’s second tournament in charge, after leading his side to a near historic result against Manchester United last year.

Fermanagh narrowly lost 1-0 at the Coleraine Showgrounds in that group game last year and McDowell’s believes the performance that night affected their resultant matches.

He said: “We had a good solid start last year, pushed Manchester United right to the wire.

“Probably one of the biggest things probably for us was that the Man United game took its toll on us for the rest of the week, we didn’t really recover properly to probably about Friday.

“Last year we’d set out some targets and we will set out some targets again this year.

“The most important thing for me is player development as well and giving them an opportunity and giving them an experience that they’re going to remember for the rest of their days and something they are going to talk about when they’re older.”

Stuart McCracken caught up with Armagh Junior manager Chris McDowell…
The first Co Fermanagh team at the tournament – pictured in 1992

The 40-year-old praised the support his side got in last year’s tournament, highlighting how much effort the supporters put in during the course of the week.

“I think Fermanagh is probably one of the best supported counties,” he said.

“They follow them everywhere.

“You see the amount of travelling they do around the grounds and between the two teams, the Premier and Junior teams, but they still came out in their green and white the whole way.”

McDowell, who is also joint manager of Fivemiletown United, is a big advocate for the tournament, which brings high-quality talent to Northern Ireland’s shores.

He said: “I have always said it’s the biggest youth competition that comes to this island, so for us as counties, it’s brilliant to be able to challenge ourselves against academy teams.

“There is no doubt it was a challenge for everyone after COVID but I know the committee work incredibly hard to put together a top class tournament and fair play to them and they make it special too, because they make it special for the young kids by getting top class venues ready for them, officials, parades, it’s all there for them and they’re treated like professional footballers for a week.”

In the Premier section, Keith Douglas inspired Fermanagh to an historic 5th place last summer and he is back at the helm once again this year. For the second year in a row, Fermanagh will go toe to toe with Manchester United at the Coleraine Showgrounds on the Wednesday evening.

However, the Erne outfit will hope to go into that game with points on the board and they open the tournament against Ichifuna from Japan and day two brings a different test as they take on the Dundalk Schoolboys League.

Write up by Stuart McCracken