Focus On: County Down Milk Cup

This week we’re catching up with County Down, through Junior Coach and media man Rory Carson. And with only two weeks to go until the tournament kicks off, preparations are well under way.


“It is very difficult for outsiders to appreciate just how much work goes on behind the scenes – our chairman would tell you that from May it’s pretty much a full-time job!” says Rory. “Off the field this year has been very exciting because we have been able to make the most of video technology, and have run a Facebook page for the first time where we can regularly upload photos, videos and articles on different members of staff or past players. It has been fantastic and has really added that extra bit of anticipation.”


It’s been busy on the pitch too at Down’s impressive training facilities in Crossgar, which has translated into some positive pre-tournament results for Rory. “The pitches are fantastic, and we have our own clubhouse which really adds an element of professionalism to our approach. Between John Bailie’s Premier side and Davy Bryson’s Junior outfit we have only recorded two defeats so far which bodes well.”


The completion of the tournament draw for the first three days has added an additional element of excitement. Down’s Premier side will be facing off against Club America of Mexico, last year’s finalists from France Vendee and Scottish Premiership outfit Motherwell – three sides with very good pedigree in Rory’s eyes. “Club America are always excellent on the ball and have been very impressive in recent years, and you would expect Vendee to be strong again. Motherwell are a professional outfit and will no doubt have lads in their team who are on full-time deals – John and his boys will certainly have their work cut out. However, considering how well drilled and organised his sides are, you would be foolish to rule out an upset or two”.



Turning our attention to the Juniors, Rory reflected on another intriguing line up of fixtures. “The standout game is of course Brentford who beat our lads 4-3 last year in a very close encounter. We have a couple of players from last year competing again, so it will be interesting to see how they match up against a professional outfit. We also play the Strikers from USA who were outstanding a few years ago, and Donegal Schools who will be tough to beat. It will be fascinating to see how they get on – they will be as good as any side in the competition, but winning the Milk Cup or even progressing is about a lot more than simply being a strong team. Luck, the effect of injuries and how the players adapt to a pressurised environment all play an important role, but it is safe to say that both managers will fancy their chances”.


With only a few weeks to go, we asked Rory to talk a little about his aspirations for the players of County Down. “What you hope the players get out of the Milk Cup is a life experience. Certainly both sides have the capabilities to do very well in the tournament, and within those sides I have no doubt that three or four will go on to play professional football. However the most important thing for the coaches, players and their friends and family is that it is a football tournament. It is not life or death, it is a week where young lads get to do something that they love doing against boys from all over the world and that is something we have really tried to focus on in County Down. We expect both our teams this year to do very well and challenge for the Milk Cup proper, but that hope will always be secondary to our desire to provide these young lads with a three month period in their lives that they will never forget. The Milk Cup is an incredible tournament and it allows young lads from the same county who perhaps go to different schools or play for different teams to unite together to take on some of the world’s best young players, and for many it will be the pinnacle of their footballing careers. So it is important that they enjoy it, and we are lucky at County Down to
have men like treasurer Nigel Turkington, Chairman Paul Ritchie and Vice Chairman John Hamilton who are responsible for spreading this ethos and ensuring the boys fulfil all their potential.


For those who do go on to play at a higher level, they will be following an ever growing list of Down alumni, including Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock), Stephen Craigan (Motherwell), Trevor Carson (Hartlepool Utd), Aaron Burns, Andrew Waterworth and Jamie Mulgrew (all Linfield). For now however the rewards of professional football are a while off, and as with all local sides sponsorship is a key pre-requisite to entering two sides in the Dale Farm Milk Cup, something Rory and the management team at Down are taking a new approach towards. “We have approached sponsorship from a different angle this year, having been very lucky that a local businessman has agreed to come on board. He has been nothing short of exceptional, and has put in place a structure that I believe could work for all county sides. Each player has been assigned an individual sponsor who contributes towards the cost of the tournament for that player, then we have two main sponsors in Whitespace (Juniors) and Belfast Harbour (Premiers). On top of that, Audi Belfast, Melons MG and Ridgeway also sponsor the side and without their input the County Down set up just wouldn’t be viable.”


And with that Rory signs off to continue a busy few weeks of preparation before the football starts in earnest. If you want to catch County Down in action at the Dale Farm Milk Cup, you can do so at the venues below – we reckon the diehard Down fans could catch all six!


Monday 27th July

Noon – County Down Juniors v Brentford at Clough, Ballymena
5pm – County Down Premiers v Club America at Broughshane, Ballymena

Tuesday 28th July

Noon – County Down Juniors v Donegal SL at Anderson Park, Coleraine
5pm – County Down Premiers v Motherwell at Rugby Avenue, Coleraine

Wednesday 29th July

Noon – County Down Juniors v Strikers at Riada Stadium, Ballymoney
3.30pm – County Down Premiers v Vendee at Roe Mill, Limavady


You can keep up with the progress of County Down by checking out their website at or liking them on Facebook at