This week we turn our attention to County Tyrone, who have both a Junior and Premier side preparing for this year’s Dale Farm Milk Cup in just a month’s time. Andy Kelly, PR Officer for the Tyrone took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us.
In recent years, it is probably County Tyrone who have most epitomised the fact that the county sides are not just attending the tournament to make up the numbers, with some seriously impressive results. The highlight undoubtedly was in 2013 when the Premier side defeated CSKA Moscow on route to the Milk Cup Final, before an injury time header handed Manchester United a 1-0 victory in the tournament final.
“2013 was a phenomenal year for the Tyrone Milk Cup association,” notes Andy. “The Premier team were the first home county side to grace that final and from Monday to Friday they performed day-in, day-out. The secret of that squad was the team spirit both on and off the pitch – a great achievement for a side that were only together for 8 weeks.”
Turning to this year’s crop of Tyrone hopefuls, Andy explains what has been keeping them busy over the past few weeks. “The main priority for both squads is for the players and coaches to get to know each other and establish a good working relationship in the run up to the tournament.
Training twice a week with a few friendly games thrown in will give both sets of players a chance to gel, develop their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses”.
As with all county sides, the principal challenge to be overcome is bringing coherence to a side in a short space of time, given that the final team selections were made in May. “The time span from trials to actually selecting the squad is something that every county has to endure”, said Andy.
“However, the 36 players who are fortunate enough to be selected are more than happy and eager to learn in the short time available. Listening to their coaches, getting involved in off-field activities such as team building and listening to the experiences of past Milk Cup players who have went on to bigger and better things – all this ensures that the boys are highly motivated for the task ahead”.
A professional approach to the Dale Farm Milk Cup on the field means a professional approach off it too, and the Tyrone sides face a “financial battle every year” to facilitate two squads at the tournament, according to Andy. “There are costs for accommodation, transport, food, equipment and insurance to name a few – but we have a committee of ten or so volunteers who work tirelessly at fundraising throughout the year. This includes sponsorship deals, bag packs, advertising booklets, grants, and each player has a fee to pay which is an unfortunate necessity. Tyrone is a large county and this alone can be a drawback, so our volunteers are constantly thinking of ideas to suit everyone which is no mean feat.
An awful lot of work no doubt, but Andy believes the hard graft is all worth it. “For any player the Dale Farm Milk Cup is a chance of a lifetime. The benefits from a footballing perspective are that they get to compete against some of the best academy teams in the game and by doing so should learn at what level they are as a team and individuals. The players also get to live the life of a professional footballer for a week, staying in the same place, travelling to games together and meeting fellow players of all cultures and nationalities which can only help them in the months and years to follow.
There is plenty to motivate this year’s Tyrone players – they simply have to look at those who have gone before them, according to Andy. “We are fortunate to have quite a few players who have moved on to play at a high level. Shea Gordon was our Junior captain recently and is now plying his trade with Sheffield United at youth level, whilst Jamie Glackin just picked up the Irish Premier League Young Player of the Year for his exploits with Dungannon Swifts. Dylan King has signed for Oldham Athletic and Ben Hall for Motherwell to name another two. Finally, it would be remiss of us to mention past players without mentioning Stuart Dallas who has just had a great season with Brentford, edging himself into the Northern Ireland senior team and bagging a goal in the recent friendly against Qatar”.
With the draw fast approaching, we closed by asking Andy who they might like to be paired with in this year’s tournament. “It’s always nice to draw one of the big boys so that the coaches and players can pit their wits against the very best. If that happens we’ll be ready and willing to let them know they are in a game. We seem to always draw our friends and neighbours County Fermanagh, so that would be a good derby to get again this year”.
We’ll find out very soon, and then the countdown will be well and truly on for a County Tyrone side hoping to emulate the heroics of 2013.