County Down Junior manager Gary McAlister says the class of 2019 have the potential to be one of the strongest junior sides the county has produced in years.
McAlister’s side will face O’Higgins, Global Premier Sports and Strikers from California in their first three games and said his side are up for the challenge.
“I’ve been so impressed with the quality of the squad and in the five years I’ve been involved it is probably the strongest Down team I’ve worked with. All of the squad are so confident on the ball and we are blessed to have quite a few who have experience at the competition.
“If we can continue to take on board the things we are working on in training and eradicate the mistakes that we have made in a few friendlies then we will have a good week.”
Down have been assessing and monitoring players since January and McAlister said it was hard work getting down to his final 18, but said he was pleased with his final selection.
“We’ve been analysing players since January and from around the start of March we got started properly with trials and internal matches.
“Everyone got a minimum of two trials and while it was a long process, it has given everyone a chance to show us what they can do.”
The Mourne youngsters have two American tests and an intriguing opening night clash with Chilean side O’Higgins and McAlister said they are looking forward to the opportunity of testing themselves against the very best.
“First and foremost we have avoided a county and from previous experience they can be very difficult games. Coaches normally know what they are up against and there can be a lot of pride at stake.
“We are really happy with the three teams we’ve been drawn against. All three of them will throw different styles of play at us and we have to be ready for that.
“Playing O’Higgins in the Coleraine Showgrounds on the opening night in front of a big crowd is a really exciting prospect and we know that they will quick, dynamic and very fit. They will bring a bit of edge and feistiness to the game as well and some of our boys won’t be used to that.
“The two American sides will be well drilled and very fit. All of the American sides in recent years have been technically very good and will try and play the ball out from the back.
“We are confident in our ability and if we give our best then we know we will be able to compete with all three sides right from the start.”
Down are now working hard to ensure they are ready for the challenge of five games in five days and McAlister said the competition can be a springboard for young players to progress their careers even at this early stage.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our young players to show everyone just how good they are. There are so many success stories over the years from the competition and players locally have used the competition as a springboard to go on and achieve in the Irish League or in the professional game.
“It is a unique challenge for our young players as they are more used to playing with development as their primary focus, but the STATSports Super Cup NI is a results orientated competition.
“Draws aren’t usually enough to push you forward to the next stage and you need to win if you want to challenge yourself against the very best.
“Over the next few weeks we will keep repeating the message that if we do ourselves proud and work hard then the results and performances will follow.”
In the Premier section, John Bailie’s side will face opposition from Ghana, Mexico and Japan in what promises to be an exciting start to their campaign.
Bailie’s U17 charges made it all the way to the decider of the main competition last year before suffering defeat to B Italia Select in the final. This year they open their campaign with a clash against Right to Dream, before facing Mexican newcomers Atlante on day two. Their final qualifying game is against Japanese debutants Riseisha HS in Castlerock.
Monday, July 29th – Down v O’Higgins – 7pm – Coleraine Showgrounds.
Tuesday, July 30th – Down v Global Premier Soccer – 5pm – Riada 2, Ballymoney
Wednesday, July 31st – Down v Strikers – 3pm – Riada Stadium, Ballymoney
Monday, July 29th – Down v Right to Dream – 3pm – University, Coleraine.
Tuesday, July 30th – Down v Atlante – 3.15pm – Anderson Park, Coleraine.
Wednesday, July 31st – Down v Riseisha HS – 3pm – Castlerock