Smith hails tournament as perfect platform for homegrown talent

Last year’s Premier Section winners County Londonderry aren’t putting added pressure on themselves as they look to retain their title.

Marty Smith’s side had a fairytale run to the Premier Section final in last year’s edition of the competition, beating Tigres UANL in the final to be crowned champions for the first time in their history.

The 38-year-old knows the tough task that lies ahead of his new group this year after last year’s victorious campaign.

SuperCupNI 2023 Premier Section Champions

He said: “I think it’ll always be difficult to replicate what we did last year, but we’ll give it our best shot.

“I don’t want to put any sort of added pressure on the players.

“Last year we had completed a fantastic achievement and a well-deserved achievement, but this is a new group.

“So, I wouldn’t want to put any sort of pressure on them.

SuperCupNI 2023 Premier Section Champions

“We’ll give it our best and see where it takes us.”

Smith chose his squad at the end of April, with his group already three weeks into their preparations for the tournament.

Londonderry’s Head Coach recently left his role as Coleraine Under-20’s Head Coach after a five-year-spell at the Bannsiders, but has been snapped up by Institute, coming in as their new Head of Academy.

Despite this change of role and last year’s triumph, Smith never had any intention of giving up his role with the county team.

“I was always planning to coach this team regardless of what my club commitments were,” he said.

SuperCupNI 2023 Premier Section Champions

“SuperCupNI has provided me some of my best days and best memories in football, so it was something that I was keen to do and I always hope to keep it on.”

Smith’s side have been put in another intriguing group once again this year, taking on English outfit Brighton and Hove Albion, Dundalk Schoolboys League and Inter Connecticut from America.

“Like any other year, you never really know what you’re up against,” he said.

“Obviously Brighton’s a Premier League side, a top academy, so we know it’ll be difficult, but we’ll be well prepared, and we’ll give it our best.

Coming up against Mexican outfit Tigres

“Then, obviously we have Dundalk Schools League, who’ll provide us with another tough test.

“I think they’ve been around the tournament over the last couple of years so they know what it’s about.

“Then the American side coming over, we don’t really know what they will bring.

“But I’m sure they’ll have quality on their side and we’ll have to do our best to get anything from it.”

The group stage draw sees County Londonderry play three sides out of Northern Ireland and Smith knows this brings a different challenge for his side compared to playing fellow counties.

He said: “When you’re playing a county it’s sort of got a derby feel to it.

“It’s normally tight, there’s never many goals in them.

“And it sort of is who shows up on the day, gets the result.

“But when you’re playing against teams that you know nothing about, it changes it.

“You just have to make sure your own team is as well prepared as they possibly can be for the tournament.”

SuperCupNI 2023 Premier Section Champions

Following last year’s triumph, many of Smith’s side have gone on to benefit from the exposure the SuperCupNI gave them and Smith believes the tournament is as important as ever for young local talent.

“I think it’s a great platform for young players,” he said.

“Aidan and Sam have both signed pro contracts at Coleraine.

“You have Alfie Friars, who signed for Derby County.

“Senan Devine, who ended up getting into the Northern International team off the back of the Super Cup, so I think it’s a great platform for young players to go and show how good they are to a wider audience.”

Words by Stuart McCracken