Belfast Telegraph

SuperCupNI to consider new competition for older players

By Keith Baillie

SupercupNI chairman Victor Leonard said this year's youth tournament was a roaring success and said a new competition for older club sides will be considered.

At the Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday, Stefan Seaton's Antrim became the first county side to win the junior section, while Ghanian academy side Right To Dream took the honours in the Premier section.

The previous Saturday, Manchester United marked their return to the competition with a Under 18s friendly against Northern Ireland at the Coleraine Showgrounds.

Leonard said: "Obviously you look back on Manchester United's incredible team in 1991 and Barcelona's visit in 2005 with a lot of pride, but I honestly feel 2017 is one of the most memorable and successful tournaments in our 35-year history.

"There has been a major increase in crowds, which shows that there is still plenty of interest in the tournament.

"We had wonderful weather during the week, which always helps, and then a fantastic finals night with local success in the Junior final and some high quality football in the Premier final.

"The return of Manchester United also gave the competition a big boost. We had good crowds at each of their five Junior games and there was a massive turnout for Saturday night's Under 18 game."

Leonard confirmed that the success of the Saturday match between Northern Ireland Schoolboys and Manchester United Under 18s could lead to a new competition for an older age group.

The popular international Under 19 Elite tournament, involving Northern Ireland, has not been played since 2014, while last year's Under 21, that included Celtic, was not deemed a success.

Leonard explained: "We are going over to Manchester for discussions about making the Saturday match a regular event or extending it into a new competition at an older age group.

"There are a lot of questions for us to ponder but we are hopeful of arranging a new tournament as we know fans enjoy watching players that aren't too far away from the first team.

"Our old international elite tournament always attracted good crowds, but it was difficult to organise as our tournament fell outside of the international window."

Leonard was delighted to see County Antrim lift the Junior section. Their success shows marked improvement in the performances of local teams in recent years.

Leonard said: "Antrim's success has been remarkable and I'm delighted for them. County teams have proved that they can compete with anyone nowadays.

"At the SuperCupNI we want to give young local players the opportunity to play against boys from different countries, and to experience different styles of football.

"I am a big Coleraine fan, and when I go to an Irish League match many of the players on the pitch have played in our competition.

"I'm a firm believer that our tournament helps the local game as well as attracting teams from all over the world."

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