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Gamble's Erne kids ready to go all in

By Keith Bailie

Fermanagh coach Sam Gamble believes the Dale Farm Milk Cup county system suits his side's young footballers.

With Manchester United and Northern Ireland not competing this year, all aspects of the prestigious youth tournament are under increased scrutiny, including the sometimes controversial county system.

Gamble, who is a Ballinamallard United youth coach, believes the current system is preferable to the alternatives that have been mentioned through the years.

"I think the county system works well for Fermanagh. Because we're a small rural county, everyone pulls together and we get great support from our local newspapers and businesses," said Gamble.

"I know the likes of Antrim and Down have a rigorous selection process, but we only had around 50 lads at our trials and I already knew the vast majority of them, which made the selection process a lot easier.

"I think if you dropped the county system in favour of a club format then Ballinamallard United wouldn't get the same support that Fermanagh gets.

"Obviously the Mallards have their own fanbase, but I think it's easier for everyone to get behind one county side.

"Also, a qualification process could be dominated by the big Belfast clubs and maybe teams from rural areas might not make it.

"If you ask guys like Andy Little, Kyle Lafferty or Michael McGovern, they will tell you how much it meant for them to play for Fermanagh, and the Milk Cup played a big part in all of their careers.

"When you pull on that Fermanagh tracksuit, everyone forgets what town or club they're from and they all pull in the one direction."

Gamble's Junior side kick off the tournament with a game against AS Roma's American academy before playing Rangers at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Tuesday.

Youth coach and local journalist Gamble is no stranger to the Scottish side.

"I took a Ballinamallard team over to Glasgow to play Rangers a while back and many of that team are in the Milk Cup squad, so a lot of these guys have played Rangers before and we will be well prepared," he said.

"That said, I know Rangers' local scouts have been at some of our friendly games so they have done their homework on us as well.

"It's a game I'm looking forward to as I'm a boyhood Rangers fan.

"I went to university in Scotland and during that time I had a season ticket at Ibrox.

"I know that the new manager Mark Warburton will want to play an attractive, attacking style of football with the first team, so I expect the youth teams will try and emulate that, which should make for a good game when we play them."

Although Fermanagh are the perennial Milk Cup underdogs, Gamble believes his young lads can do their county proud.

"We've played a number of games against local sides such as Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps and we've picked up some positive results, but as I always say to the lads, the results don't matter. It's about constantly improving," added Gamble. "In our last friendly we lost 2-0 to Armagh at Tandragee, which I think was a little reminder for our boys that they have to keep working hard if they want to do well at the Milk Cup."

Fermanagh's Premier side are managed by Robbie Walker. They begin their campaign against Partick Thistle before a derby battle with County Londonderry and a mouthwatering clash against Malaga.

Belfast Telegraph


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