County preview series – Smith confident Class of 2023 can deliver!

Long serving County L’derry manager Marty Smith believes his squad this year might be the strongest panel he has ever selected.

Over the last number of years, Londonderry have caused shock results against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Rangers and have punched well above their weight and Smith, whose side were defeated at the semi-final stage last year, said he is happy with the quality within the squad.

Co L’derry overcame Manchester United at SuperCupNI 2018

“I think it was one of the strongest groups we’ve had in terms of a lot of players are all playing at a high level consistently.

“Quite often there’s a massive gap between your better players in the squad and maybe your lesser players with no disrespect, but this year I don’t think the gap was very big from the top players down.

“This is my fifth tournament coaching the team and it has probably been the hardest year to select an 18-player squad.”

Smith was impressed by the number of players wanting to play for the county this season and can’t wait to get the hard work underway.

County Londonderry huddle at SuperCupNI 2022

“The trial process was long because we had over 150 players register,” he said.

“So, we had to work through all them meaning it took a bit longer than most years, but the squad is selected now and we are looking forward to really focusing on our work on the training ground now.”

County Derry have pulled of some major scalps in recent tournaments, such as wins over English giants Arsenal and Scottish titans Rangers, and Smith is confident they can do it again this year as they go into a group with the Scots once again.

He said when asked if he believed his side could beat the big sides: “Hundred percent – if they apply themselves properly and they work hard and they give it everything they can leading up to it, then there is no reason why they can’t pull of a big result against a bigger team.”

Derry’s Lee Harkin celebrates as he scores against Manchester United at SuperCupNI 2018

“It’s always nice getting a big club in the group stages because it’s a great experience for the players.

“We played Rangers in 2019 we beat them at the Coleraine Showgrounds and that is still talked about within the group, so it’ll be nice to play a big team and I’m sure we’ll have more memories and it’ll be even nicer if we can get a result.”

The 37-year-old who is coaching in his fifth tournament was keen to express how magical and important the Super Cup NI is to the people of Northern Ireland.

“Until you’re involved in it, you don’t realise how special the tournament is. I’ve made friends from the tournament and without the tournament, I wouldn’t have had them friends.

2022 Junior side line up ahead of facing Tyrone at The Warren, Portstewart

“Through different teams, different channels and people from across each of the counties.

“You form relationships and I think it’s as big as the football side of it, the social end of it.

“I played in it three times as well going back 20 years, but I still have friends and relationships from playing in it, and even more now in coaching.”

County L’derry’s Premier side lost 4-0 in the semi-final last season, but Smith is hoping the support they got last year from the Limavady crowd can be replicated this time around.

“It’s great for the locals to come out because it’s the summer, the weather’s nice and people just have a keen interest.

2022 Junior side at Anderson Park, Coleraine

“The support last year was massive in the semi-final, but unfortunately, it didn’t go the way we’d hoped.

“But it’s just brilliant for the players, for their parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, friends, all to come out and watch them.

As a schools’ officer for Manchester United in L’derry, the coach is always keeping tabs on who is breaking through in the area.

He said: “My job is not specifically working with academy through the schools, but if somebody’s there and they do well, then I can always point them in the right direction, get things moving that way.”

Londonderry’s Premier side kick off their campaign with an Ulster derby against Armagh at Seahaven on Monday night. Day two will see Smith’s charges face Rangers at the Limavady Showgrounds before concluding their group stage with a match against Dubliners St Kevin’s FC

Gary Devenney’s Junior side also face Armagh on day one at Castlerock and on day two they will face English newcomers Stevenage FC at the Riada Stadium. Their third and final game is against FC America in Castlerock.

Write up by Stuart McCracken