Cup huge opportunity for squad

Members of the Otago-based youth team are looking forward to the Super Cup in July. PHOTO: LINDA...
Members of the Otago-based youth team are looking forward to the Super Cup in July. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Otago versus Rangers with a chance of meeting Manchester United.

Sounds like fairy-tale stuff but it is a looming reality for the Football Otago Youth Development Trust team preparing to return to one of the world’s great junior football tournaments in July.

A squad of 18 has been finalised for the Northern Ireland Super Cup, formerly known as the Milk Cup, in the Northern Ireland town of Coleraine.

The Otago team are in an under-16 premier section that includes junior sides from Premier League clubs Manchester United and Brighton.

They must first navigate a pool containing Scottish League One club Hamilton Academical, local side Country Tyrone, and a rather well-known Scottish Premier League club called Glasgow Rangers.

"That in itself is pretty exciting," co-coach Andy Duncan said.

"We’re in the middle of Northern Ireland, where Celtic and Rangers are two mega-powers along with Man United and Liverpool, so there will be a massive crowd and I dare say we’ll get one of the biggest stadiums.

"It will be something our boys will not forget for a long time."

After pool play, the tournament splits into cup, bowl, shield, vase and plate competitions.

As well as the big-name clubs, there are teams from Japan, Latin America, the United States and the Middle East.

It all makes for a thrilling opportunity for some New Zealand youngsters — and their management team.

"Even being a crusty 53, you still get a thrill when the draw goes your way and you get a chance to take on some of the biggest names in Europe," Duncan said.

"It gets a bit more real and you realise you will be rubbing shoulders with boys who might pop up on the TV in the future.

"As we get closer and closer, you can see the excitement starting to creep through the camp."

It will be a 12th trip to Coleraine for Duncan.

He said football pathways were limited for talented players at this end of the country and there was nothing quite like the Super Cup tournament.

The Otago squad includes four players from Timaru, three from Invercargill, and Oamaru defender Jack White.

Getting down to a squad of 18, along with six non-travelling reserves, had been a difficult process, Duncan said.

"We had 48-49 people trial, and the standard was pretty high throughout.

"We’ve laboured over selections right through and to get it down to 18 was nigh on impossible. We could have taken another 11 on top of that.

"We’ve had years when 13 people turned up, and we thought this might have been something that had done its dash. To be in this situation is a good thing but it was pretty hard going.

"They’re raw and they’re going to get a bit of an eye-opener when they see what the rest of the world is capable of, but I think the basics are there.

"The most promising thing is we’ve got a whole lot of boys who want to learn and who love football, which is a step in the right direction."

The squad are meeting every Sunday and will have a camp and a couple of friendly games before they leave in July.

Before the tournament, they will have a camp in Manchester during which time they will visit the National Football Museum and Premier League temples Old Trafford and the Etihad.

Duncan is in a coaching team that includes Tim Horner and Murray Devereux, and will join physio Emerik Wallace under the guidance of tour leader Matthew Scoles.

Super Cup

The squad

Fergus Barrons (Bayfield), Oliver Milne-Wahren, Samuel Sheppard, Zachary Tull (James Hargest), Will Laws (John McGlashan), Toby Flanders (King’s), Fletcher Hawken, Lochie Ing-Aram, Zach Cashmore, Cormac de la Harpe, Oliver Devereux, Sam Drake, Finlay Williamson (Otago Boys’), Dalton Todd (Roncalli), Marshall Solomon, Tadhg Harrington, Max Roger (Timaru Boys’), Jack White (Waitaki Boys’).