Milk Cup can shine without Manchester United
Milk Cup driving force Jim Sandford has insisted this year's event will recover from the shock, late withdrawal of star attraction Manchester United by seizing the opportunity to show it is not a one-team tournament.
Tournament PRO Sandford and his organising committee colleagues are now looking forward instead of back on the sudden ending of United's 25-year association with the Milk Cup.
They hope to announce a Premier League club replacement for United in the next few days and plans to introduce a first Milk Cup tournament for girls next season are being brought forward to include an exhibition series of games this year.
Sandford revealed: "We have received several approaches to fill the gap left by United. We will take stock over the next few days and there will definitely be a quality replacement.
"The Northern Ireland womens' international team manager Alfie Wylie has also been assisting us in creating a girls' section along the lines of the now defunct Carrick Ladies tournament so the Milk Cup continues to move forward.
"The tournament is about more than just one club as some of the reaction to the United decision would have you believe.
"Our annoyance at the United withdrawal was all to do with the timing of their announcement and the disruption this has caused. We fully respect their right to pick and choose the tournaments their youth team compete in.
"If they felt their connection with the Milk Cup had run its course and a change of direction was needed, that is fair enough. But why enter in the first place?
"It would have been better not to have entered at all and having done so, the obligation ought to have been fulfilled, as you'd expect of a club of United's standing and given their vast following here.
"To suggest, as some in Manchester have done, that the Milk Cup is no longer as competitive as they would like, begs the question of what changed in that respect in the two months since United sent us written confirmation of their entry?
"We thank United for their huge contribution to the tournament down the years and we, in turn, are delighted to have provided a platform for the development of so many of their young stars."
July 26-31 remain the tournament dates and a rescheduled draw date will be announced soon.
Sandford endorsed the Old Trafford decision to withdraw United and Northern Ireland defender Paddy McNair, from Ballyclare, from making the draw due to have taken place at Belfast's Odyssey today.
"It would have placed unfair focus on Paddy, given the events. That particular decision was the right one," Sandford stressed.