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John Bailie believes his County Down boys can flourish in Milk Cup

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Up for it: Down's Milk Cup Premier squad above

Up for it: Down's Milk Cup Premier squad above

Up for it: Down's Milk Cup Premier squad above

County Down Milk Cup manager John Bailie has warned that many of this year's county players will drop out of the game before their 21st birthday.

The former Ards captain believes that many of today's young players don't possess the mentality or the maturity to make it at Irish League level, never mind as a professional across the water.

The County Down Premier manager said: "I've told the lads that for most of them this will be the pinnacle of their careers.

"They look at me and roll their eyes. I'm sure they're thinking, 'Whatever John, I'm 16 and I've got the world at my feet.' But I'm telling the truth.

"I looked at our squad list from four years ago and only three of them were playing in the Irish League. The rest of them were either in the Amateur League or they had given up the game.

"People have this idea that the Milk Cup is a springboard into professional football, but most won't make the grade at Irish League level.

"Seventeen to 21 is the key time for footballers. That's when the girls, the drink and the drugs come in and a lot of guys lose their way.

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"A lot of young lads these days have ideas above their station. They think they should be in the first team at Glentoran or Linfield at 17, and if they're not they will throw the toys out of the pram.

"These guys have got to understand that they have to serve your apprenticeship at youth team and reserve level before you get a crack at first team football. And if you get into the first team there is a strong chance you will be dropped by the manager at some stage. That's just part of your footballing education.

"To make it in the Irish League you need to have patience and understand that you will have set-backs. It's the guys who understand this that end up having a career for themselves in the Irish League."

While Bailie believes that county teams have improved, he believes that our local lads are still a few steps behind their professional opponents.

"There is no doubt the county teams have got better results in recent years. I'm not sure if that's because they have improved or if there isn't the same level of quality coming over. It's probably a bit of both.

"To be honest, I think the better professional teams will always beat a county team in the end. A county team can cause one or two big shocks, but it is difficult to win five games in five days. The English sides are better equipped and have a greater level of fitness."

Bailie's County Down side will kick-off their campaign with a game against Antrim on Monday before playing Partick Thistle on Tuesday and the Craig Bellamy Foundation from Sierra Leone on Wednesday.

Former Bangor defender Bailie believes his side has a real chance of making an impact at this year's Dale Farm Milk Cup.

"I hate saying this, and I really don't want to say it, but this is the best group of players I have ever had and I've told them that. Maybe saying that is the kiss of death but that's my opinion.

"They're strong right from 1 to 18. Of course, if you lose your first game on the Monday all that confidence can go out the window and you can have a bad tournament. They've got the ability to be very competitive but it's up to them to make it happen."

County Down's Junior side, who are under the guidance of Kyle Spiers, will face Queen of the South, Brentford and Dundalk.


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