Milk Cup can define you as players, says O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has opened the Milk Cup by telling the hundreds of competing young players that the tournament presents them with a platform to make their mark on the world stage.
"What you do – or don't do – this week could very well chart what your career path will be," he said at last night's welcoming ceremony for the international youth tournament in Coleraine.
O'Neill, who played in the competition himself with Coleraine in 1985, said this year's crop of hopefuls could literally have the world at their feet.
Speaking to players from the 44 teams who have arrived on the North Coast for the extravaganza, the Northern Ireland manager was passionate that they should seize their golden ticket for success.
While O'Neill said there is pressure on young players to perform to the best of their potential, he added that they should also enjoy the experience.
"I played in the competition and it was something very special.
"You will hear that from everyone who has competed in it over the years," he added.
O'Neill is preparing for next month's World Cup qualifier with Russia at Windsor Park, but has based himself on the North Coast to watch Northern Ireland's players in games against Denmark at Coleraine Showgrounds tonight.
Kilmarnock goalkeeper Conor Brennan has replaced Southampton's Chris Johns in the squad which also faces a Drumahoe clash with the USA on Wednesday and Friday's meeting with last year's winners Mexico at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
There are two locally based players included – Glenavon striker Andrew Mitchell and Cliftonville forward Jonathan McMurray.
Joining the squad again this year is defender Luke McCullough who has just signed for Doncaster Rovers from Manchester United on a two-year deal following a successful trial.
Players from as far afield as Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Russia, the US, New Zealand, France, Germany and Japan received a warm reception as they filed through the town, although perhaps the loudest cheers were reserved for Manchester United and Liverpool's representatives.
The three competitions begin today and conclude at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday.
JUNIOR SECTION: Noon: Co. Down v Watford (Broughshane), San Luis de Colina v North Dublin SL (Riada Stadium 2, Ballymoney, Southampton FC v Cavan & Monaghan DL (Rugby Avenue, Coleraine), Japan FA v Co. Fermanagh (Anderson Park, Coleraine); 1.30pm: Plymouth Argyle v Strikers FC South Coast (Clough, Ballymena), Brentford v Ipswich Town (Castlerock), Dundalk SL v Co. Armagh (Parker Avenue, Portrush), Co. Londonderry v Co. Antrim (Seahaven, Portstewart); 3.30pm: Swindon Town v Everton (Anderson Park, Coleraine), Co. Tyrone v Liverpool (Scroggy Road, Limavady).
PREMIER SECTION: 3.30pm: Strikers FC South Coast v TuS Altenberge (Broughshane, Ballymena), Otago Utd v Co. Fermanagh (The Warren, Portstewart), Newcastle Utd v O'Higgins FC (Showgrounds, Coleraine); 5pm: Cruz Azul v Cherry Orchard (Castlerock), Co. Down v Vendee FC (Parker Avenue, Portrush); 6pm: SC Corinthians v Bohemian FC (Seahaven, Portstewart), Club America de Mexico v Co. Tyrone Riada Stadium, Ballymoney); 7pm: Co. Londonderry v CSKA Moscow (Scroggy Road, Limavady); 8pm: Manchester Utd v Co. Antrim (Showgrounds, Ballymena), Liverpool v Co. Armagh (Riverside Stadium, Drumahoe)
ELITE SECTION: 8pm: N. Ireland v Denmark (Showgrounds, Coleraine), USA v Mexico (Riada Stadium, Ballymoney).