Debate goes on despite success of the Milk Cup
The Dale Farm Milk Cup might be over for 2014, but the debate about the competition's future will continue for sometime to come.
Like 2013, this year's tournament was a huge success for the local players. In previous years, Finals Night has been dominated by clubs from across the Irish Sea and beyond, but this year Northern Ireland won the Elite section, County Antrim reached the Junior final and Glengormley lad Jordan Thompson was man of the match for Manchester United in the Premier final. Northern Ireland even won the first ever Minors competition, a new tournament for players under the age of 13.
Despite this, question marks have been raised about both the County system and the future of the Elite tournament.
While some within football oppose the county format, the Milk Cup committee have been quick to state that they county system will be retained at Junior and Premier level. The future of the Elite section is less secure, with some suggesting the Under-19 international tournament might be replaced by an Under-21 club tournament involving British sides.
This would come as something as a blow to the Irish FA, who use the Milk Cup to prepare their Under-19 team for future qualifying games.
Northern Ireland Elite manager Stephen Craigan said: “The Milk Cup is fantastic as it allows us to spend an elongated length of time with the boys. We got them on Friday so we will have them for over a week, which is rare in international football.
“When you get that length of time with them you can nail down a shape and when we meet up in September, the boys we already be prepared to play in that manner.
“The Milk Cup is great for these kids, it's great exposure and it's a great experience. It makes them feel good about themselves, which is never a bad thing.”
At county level, Antrim upset the odds once again. Stefan Seaton's boys reached the Junior final for the second year in a row before eventually losing to Brazilian side Corinthians.
Seaton said: “I was asked was it disappointing to lose in the final again, but that's not the way we look at it. We've done incredibly well to reach the final in two successive seasons and I think the players deserve all the credit.
“I was always told that a county team would never win the Milk Cup, but in the last two years I think we've seen that it is possible.”
There is no doubt that part of the Dale Farm Milk Cup's attraction for spectators is watching the likes of Manchester United and Corinthians strut their stuff on the North Coast, but it's imperative for the competition's credibility that the tournament retains a strong local taste.