Belfast Telegraph

Made in Dungannon: How Swifts' League Cup success process began by bucking Irish League trend last century

By Adrian Rutherford

It is a success story made in Dungannon.

When Ryan Harpur lifted the BetMcLean League Cup on Saturday night, it was not just the Swifts' first major trophy.

It was also a triumph for Dungannon's renowned youth system - a talent factory which contributed seven of the 11 players that started the game.

Each one was at Dungannon United Youth before their careers took them in markedly different directions.

Some went to England, others to Scotland. Another dropped down into junior football.

Now they have come full circle, via Rangers, Hull City and even Strathroy Harps, to guide Dungannon to a fairytale cup triumph.

Joe McAree, the former Swifts manager who started the youth system, remembers a conversation he had more than 20 years ago.

"Back in 1997, I made a statement at a board meeting," he recalled.

"'The future of your club is in the youth of your community,' I said. 'Neglect the youth of your community, and you neglect your club'.

"Do you know how many Irish League clubs at that time had an Under-11, an Under-12, an Under-13 team? None.

"They had only Under-18 teams - youth teams.

"But we had an Under-11 team, we then had an Under-12 team, an Under-13 team and so on.

"We now have 14 junior teams, playing every Saturday in the National League and the Mid-Ulster Youth League."

It is a system that has ultimately brought great reward - with a first major trophy now sitting proudly at Stangmore Park.

Ryan Mayse, who scored two of Dungannon's goals on Saturday, is one of the homegrown contingent.

As a teenager at Dungannon United Youth, his talent was never in doubt. However, coaching staff were unsure if he had the physique to make it at the top level.

He dropped down to junior football, playing for Strathroy Harps in the Fermanagh and Western League.

He developed, grew stronger and moved on to Ballinamallard, before rejoining the Swifts last summer.

Others tried to forge careers in England and Scotland, then returned.

Paul McElroy and Seanan Clucas were on the books of Hull City. Christopher Hegarty went to Millwall and later Rangers.

Cormac Burke, the scorer of the third goal on Saturday, was part of an under-age Dungannon team that went to Spain. He later joined Ipswich Town.

The other two - left-back Jarlath O'Rourke and midfielder Kris Lowe - had a more direct route, going straight into the Swifts' first team.

Rhys Campbell, a talented winger and an unused sub on Saturday, is the latest to roll off the production line.

Head coach Rodney McAree said the contribution of homegrown talent made Saturday's success all the sweeter.

"I think it shows what can be achieved with hard work and effort," he said.

"To have so many of your starting XI come through Dungannon United Youth is absolutely fantastic and a credit to the youth system.

"I don't think you'll find too many clubs who have lifted a major trophy with so many of their own players in their team.

"That's why this means so much to the town and to the community - it's a fairytale story."

The same fairytale analogy could be applied to Mayse, the stand-out player on Saturday night.

In 2015, he scored twice in a Mulhern Cup final for Strathroy. Fast forward nearly three years and he repeated the feat in a major final in front of a live TV audience.

Afterwards, proudly clutching the trophy, the 24-year-old reflected on the varied journeys taken by the players.

"So many of us came through Dungannon United Youth, so it is good for us to deliver something back to the club and bring that first bit of senior silverware," he said.

"To have so many come through like that is special. I know some of them moved on, to England and so on.

"In my case I moved on to junior football, others had the luxury of going to England, but we've all come back.

"We're all back home and it's really, really special to win this cup."

Belfast Telegraph


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