County Down Premier manager John Bailie admits that his charges have been handed an intriguing set of fixtures in Group C.
Down will face Newcastle United, Ichifuna from Japan and South American newcomers Iquique from Chile.
“It is as wide spread a collection of teams that we have had in a long time and it is a really good thing for the players.
“This is a chance for them to test themselves against teams from different continents and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“There is no doubt it is a difficult group, but we welcome the challenge of facing this sort of calibre of teams.”
Down open their competition at the Ballymena Showgrounds against Newcastle United on Monday evening, before facing Japanese outfit Ichifuna in Portrush. They finish their group stage with a clash against Iquique from Chile in Broughshane on Wednesday afternoon.
“In recent years the Premier section has become so competitive,” said Bailie.
“You very rarely see any one-sided results and this group will be no different. We will know what to expect from Newcastle and the way they will play. I’ve managed teams against South American sides in the past and we have a fair idea of what they will bring, and you never get an easy game against a Japanese side at the tournament.
“We have stayed in the same hotel as the Japanese teams in the past and when they aren’t playing games they are training. They will be incredibly well organised and disciplined.”
Bailie said that it was clear for all to see that the county teams are continuing to make great strides on and off the field of play and he paid tribute to the county setups.
“You only have to look at the achievements of Antrim and they have to be singled out for praise and their results speak for themselves.
“I think the county teams have started to adapt better and we are coping better against the more established teams in the Junior and Premier sections.”
Portavogie native Bailie said that as the county setups become more professional in their approach there is no a greater need for balancing the workloads of their young players.
“For some of our players this might be the third or fourth year they have played in the competitive and many of them haven’t had a proper break.
“As a county manager it is about being patient and understanding and striking a balance.
“Thankfully our preparations haven’t been too badly disrupted this year, but we do sometimes encounter issues like managers looking to use players in pre-season friendlies at Irish League clubs and it is a case of talking to them and hoping that they are understanding of where we are and what we are trying to do.
“Each of our players are at different levels in their development and for us it is about bringing them up to speed with the standard required for this tournament and ensuring that they are ready for kick off come Monday, July 23.”
It is now all systems go at County Down for the big kick off and Bailie said they are putting the finishing touches to their preparation ahead of their opening night clash with Newcastle.
“We are fortunate to have a vast majority of our squad who have played in the competition before, so they will know what to expect and the level of intensity the tournament brings.
“I’ve seen teams before struggle to adapt and before you blink it is Thursday and the week has passed you by.
“We want to get the kids to embrace every moment and enjoy it. We played our final friendly match last weekend and we will finish by getting organised and fine-tuning our set pieces before making our way up to the North Coast.”
In the Junior section, Gary McAllister’s Down U15 side have English, American and Irish challenges in front of them in Group B.
Down get their tournament underway against the returning Charlton Athletic on Monday afternoon in Ballymoney at the Riada pitches. On day two they take on tournament regulars Cherry Orchard in Portrush at 1.30pm and on Wednesday they take on last year’s runners-up GPS in Clough at 3pm.
Monday, July 23 – Down v Newcastle United – Ballymena Showgrounds – 7pm
Tuesday, July 24 – Down v Ichifuna – Parker Avenue, Portrush – 5pm
Wednesday, July 25 – Down v Iquique – Broughshane – 5pm
Monday, July 23 – Down v Charlton Athletic – Riada 2, Ballymoney – 1.30pm
Tuesday, July 24 – Down v Cherry Orchard – Parker Avenue, Portrush – 1.30pm
Wednesday, July 25 – Down v GPS – Clough – 3pm