County Londonderry Junior manager Marty Smith said his side are not there to make up the numbers as they take their place in Group A with Manchester United, Rangers FC and Club NI.
It is among one of the toughest groups ever assembled in the Junior section at the competition and avid Manchester United fan Smith said his side can’t wait to play their part.
“I was sitting there at the draw and Manchester United were drawn out, then Rangers, then Club NI and all of the counties were sitting there on the edge of their seat.
“In the end it was us, but I was so pleased for the players and their families. It is an incredible opportunity and the way the group is it is not out of the question that everyone could take a few points off each other!”
Smith, who ironically has a season ticket at Old Trafford, said it is an incredible proposition for his side to go toe to toe with the Manchester United youngsters on the opening night of the competition.
“It will be exciting for us to play at the Showgrounds on the opening night against Manchester United. There aren’t too many other games on that evening so there should be a big crowd in Coleraine.
“Everything we have been working on has been building up to that moment.
“I have kept telling the boys that it is 11 v 11 and that Manchester United will be just as nervous as we will be. We have just saw in the World Cup how smaller teams have claimed shock results with the likes of Iceland taking a point off Argentina and we will instil a belief in our boys that they can compete against the very best.”
The Derry U15 side have been together since mid-May and Smith said preparations have gone well.
“Preparations really got underway at Halloween when myself and the coaching staff were out scouting players and getting ourselves accustomed with the age group.
“Everyone has been so supportive of us and the players have been brilliant. We’ve played quite a few friendly games and we have plenty of goals in our team.
“The only problem we will have is that it has been impossible for us to try and replicate what we are about to face, with all credit to the teams we have played in the pre-tournament games, but I know the boys will work hard and enjoy the experience.”
Things don’t get any easier for Derry on day two as they take on Club NI at Anderson Park and on Wednesday they return to the home of Coleraine FC to take on Scottish giants Rangers.
Smith, who played in the tournament when he was younger said they are fine-tuning preparations ahead of the big kick off on Monday, July 23.
“We’ve been putting the finishing touches to our preparations over the last few days and since early June we have been working three times a week.
“Over the last few weeks we have been working on our work rate off the ball and making ourselves hard to break down and throughout the process the boys have shown a real sense of togetherness and spirit.
“I can’t ever remember a draw like this for Derry and we are all incredibly excited about the tournament and we can’t wait to get started.”
In the Premier section, Lee Guy’s side face challenges from France and North America in Group A.
They open their tournament in Limavady on Monday evening at 5pm against Vendee from France. On day two they will face tournament newcomers Edmonton FC from Canada at the Coleraine Showgrounds and their third and final group game is against GPS from America at the Riada Stadium in Ballymoney at 7pm.
Monday July 23 – Londonderry v Manchester United – Coleraine Showgrounds – 7.30pm
Tuesday, July 24 – Londonderry v Club NI – Anderson Park – 5pm
Wednesday, July 25 – Londonderry v Rangers FC – Coleraine Showgrounds – 6pm
Monday, July 23 – Londonderry v Vendee – Scroggy Road, Limavady – 5pm
Tuesday, July 24 – Londonderry v Edmonton FC – Coleraine Showgrounds – 7pm
Wednesday, July 25 – Londonderry v GPS – Riada Stadium – 7pm