Belfast Telegraph

SuperCupNI: Neville hails benefits of tournament as Manchester United celebrate triumphant return

By Keith Bailie

Manchester United's much heralded return to competitive action in the SuperCupNI attracted a bumper crowd to Portstewart's Seahaven ground.

United's Under-15 side recorded a 3-0 victory over Mexican club Colina, thanks to two goals from Teden Mengi and a further effort from Anthony Elanga, although the game was brought to an early end due to an incident in the crowd.

The Junior fixture was United's first competitive game in the youth tournament since a Marcus Rashford-inspired Under-17 side won the 2014 Premier competition with a 1-0 win over French side Vendee, courtesy of a Cameron Borthwick-Jackson goal.

The Red Devils' decision to end their 30-year association with the tournament in 2015 drew much criticism, with the competition's organisers forced to postpone their annual draw.

This year's return to the north coast tournament was welcomed by United's long-serving welfare and education officer Dave Bushell.

Bushell said: "We have been coming to Northern Ireland for nearly 30 years and the Milk Cup has played a huge part in the development of our Academy players.

"It helps the boys to improve their game and improve their understanding of football. But it's not just about the football; it helps the boys to understand what the world is about. Experiences like this will help them become better people as well as better footballers.

"It's great that United have decided to send a team to this year's tournament, not only because it helps our players but also because we have so many fans in Northern Ireland and I know they appreciate our trips to the SuperCupNI. The crowds have been superb."

On Saturday evening, almost 4,000 spectators watched Manchester United Under-18s defeat Northern Ireland 1-0 at the Coleraine Showgrounds.

The bumper crowd highlighted the huge interest in the Manchester club, which is understandable when you consider the number of future stars that have graced the grounds of the north coast in those famous reds shirts.

David Beckham (right), Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford and Andreas Pereira have all represented United at the tournament.

The Old Trafford club and famous youth tournament have also helped the Northern Ireland national team; six of Michael O'Neill's Euro 2016 squad played for United at the Milk Cup.

Neville, who won the tournament alongside Beckham, Butt, Scholes and Giggs in 1991, believes the Milk Cup experience played a key role in his development.

He said: "It's a fantastic tournament. Probably in terms of reputation it's the best Under-17 tournament in Europe. We had a great time there and won the trophy.

"You come back with a feeling of confidence and that definitely bonds everyone together over that week you're in Northern Ireland."

As well as Euro stars Corry Evans, Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, Luke McCullough, Craig Cathcart and Oliver Norwood, Northern Ireland legends Keith Gillespie and David Healy also played for United at the Milk Cup.

Gillespie, who won the tournament alongside Neville in 1991, said: "It's actually a very long week. You play five games in five days.

"Back in 1991, we beat Hearts in the final. I think there was nearly 10,000 at the Coleraine Showgrounds that night. It was a great thrill for us because we had never played in front of that sort of crowd."

Today, United will face County Fermanagh at the Ballymena Showgrounds before playing Southampton at the Coleraine Showgrounds tomorrow.

MANCHESTER UNITED'S MILK CUP DREAM TEAM: GK Sam Johnstone, RB Gary Neville, CB Jonny Evans, CB Wes Brown, LB Kieran Richardson, RM David Beckham, CM Nicky Butt, CM Paul Scholes, LM Ryan Giggs, CF Danny Welbeck, CF Marcus Rashford.

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