Ryan McLaughlin urges Antrim boys to follow his example
Liverpool defender and Northern Ireland international Ryan McLaughlin believes the Milk Cup played a pivotal role in his development. McLaughlin (19) played for County Antrim at both Junior and Premier level, making his Milk Cup debut back in 2008.
The teenager, who won his first international cap on Northern Ireland's South American tour this summer, said: "The Milk Cup helped me a lot because it was my first experience of life as a footballer. It allowed me to sample the life of a professional before moving away.
"Simple things like staying in a hotel with your team and making sure you recover properly after a game, make a big difference. It's also a great chance to showcase yourself as there are clubs from all around the world scouting at the Milk Cup. It's a big opportunity for local lads to put themselves in the shop window."
McLaughlin is one of a number of international players who have come through the County Antrim system, including Manchester United's Jonny Evans, Southampton's Steve Davis and West Brom's Chris Brunt.
McLaughlin believes this year's County Antrim players should savour the occasion, adding: "I would tell this year's squad to enjoy it as much as you can. You've got to take everything in as it passes in a flash. I think you can only really enjoy it if you do as well as you can. It's important to perform well for both your team and yourself."
Antrim's Under-14 side surpassed all expectations last season when they reached the final of the Junior section before eventually losing to Everton. Junior manager Stefan Seaton said: "Reaching the final made us the most successful county side in the history of the Milk Cup. It was a year when all the preparation we'd put in, and the ideas we were asking the squad to take on, were rewarded with results.
"I was told for many years a county side would never do well again as the competition was too strong, but we saw that as a challenge rather than an excuse to accept second best.
"We selected a squad that contained nine schoolboy internationals, which should have meant they were arriving full of confidence. In truth, the national team were doing poorly and the players had taken a lot of criticism. Our staff and I felt this was unjustified.
"We do encourage the boys to play an aggressive, attacking passing game, trying to control the contest and dictate the pace, and that worked well for us. Momentum is one of the key factors in tournament football and in the end only a penalty shoot-out stopped us from winning the tournament."
Antrim's Premier manager Mark Sweeney believes the county's preparation for this year's Milk Cup should make them a force to be reckoned with.
"Our main trials for the Milk Cup began back in April, although we had been scouting players since January," said Sweeney.
"We were very impressed by the quality during the trials and it was a tough decision to reduce the squad down to the final 18. We have a hard-working, focused, talented squad and we hope our players are able to showcase their talent during this tournament. We would also like to thank all our sponsors for supporting the county this summer."
Sweeney will be aided by Ballymena United full-back Jim Ervin, who is currently recovering from a serious knee he sustained in the Irish Cup final. Antrim's Juniors will face Santa Marta from Chile, County Londonderry and Swindon Town. The Premier squad will take on County Down, Moscow side Chertanovo and French club Vandee.