County Armagh are determined to go one step better than they did last year as they look to secure a place in the final four of the Junior section.
The boys from the Orchard County looked certain to cement their place in the semi-finals with Rangers, GPS and Club NI only for Antrim to score a late goal against Strikers and pip Armagh at the post on Wednesday afternoon.
Junior manager Chris Chambers is back at the helm once again this summer and he admitted his side are anxious for the big kick off.
“We were so close last year and we had a difficult set of fixtures, but our boys have the potential again this year to be there or thereabouts come Wednesday when the places for the semi-finals are up for grabs.”
Armagh start their campaign with an exciting clash against Leeds United at Seahaven on Monday night. On day two they will face neighbours Dundalk Schoolboys League and on Wednesday they will tackle Colina from Chile in Clough.
“To be honest with you we were looking to avoid Leeds United on the opening night,” said Chambers.
“It is crucial you get off to a good start and the first day is so important for setting the standard to follow.
“Nonetheless it is going to be brilliant playing against Leeds United on the opening night. They are well supported over here, and we are expecting a good crowd in Portstewart.
“Everyone in the 18 now is fighting for that starting spot against Leeds United. It is a great test for us and that is why we are here – we want to play against the very best from across the world.”
Chambers, who is joined in the dugout by Mark Porter, Matty Hazley and Johnny Pollock said all three games are likely to bring with them three completely different challenges.
“Leeds United will be your typical English Academy side and they will get the ball down and keep the ball very well. We have played Dundalk already this year and their style will be very similar to ours and we really don’t know what to expect from Colina. The South American teams have the World Cup were incredibly street smart and savvy and we are expecting something similar on day three.
“The Junior section looks to be one of the most competitive in years and credit to the organisers for attracting such a high calibre group of teams.”
Armagh were one of the stand out performers in the Junior section last summer and Chambers said that the class of 2018 have the potential to match the level of performances set by the 2017 squad.
“Last summer we had some recognisable players with international experience and it was a brilliant squad.
“This squad maybe has a bit less experience, but they are such an exciting group and there is a lot of raw potential within the 18.
“They remind me of the squad that won the Globe a few years ago and to be honest we feel that our group could go anyway. We are confident in the players and their ability to perform and they will not fear anyone.
“There is a really positive dynamic amongst the group and we have had plenty of effort and commitment. The potential is there for them to achieve and as we approach our tenth week of pre-tournament preparations we are reaching our peak and we are ready for the challenges that await us.”
In the Premier section, long serving manager Brendan Grimes has taken a well-deserved break and the reigns have been handed to Ciaran O’Kane.
O’Kane’s first game in charge of the Orchard County U17s will see them tackle B Italia U17s in the Ballymena Showgrounds at 5pm. On day two Armagh will face tournament regulars Otago in Coleraine at 3pm, before concluding the qualification stages with a clash against First Choice Soccer in Portrush at 4pm.
Monday, July 23 – Armagh v B Italia U17 – Ballymena Showgrounds – 5pm
Tuesday, July 24 – Armagh v Otago – Coleraine Showgrounds – 3pm
Wednesday, July 25 – Armagh v First Choice Soccer – Parker Avenue, Portrush – 4pm
Monday, July 23 – Armagh v Leeds United – Seahaven – 7pm
Tuesday, July 24 – Armagh v Dundalk Schoolboys League – Castlerock – 5pm
Wednesday, July 25 – Armagh v Colina (Chile) – Clough – Noon