Belfast Telegraph

SuperCup NI: Antrim proved our county sides can be success: Andy Hunter

By Keith Bailie

It's doubtful there has been a more exciting moment in the 33-year history of the Milk Cup than Jack Ferguson's penalty save from Jared in last year's Premier final.

Ferguson's penalty heroics wrote Andy Hunter's County Antrim side into the history books, as they became the first county team to win Northern Ireland's most prestigious youth tournament thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over Mexican side Club America.

Ahead of the tournament's 2016 kick-off on Monday - it has since been re-branded SuperCup NI - Hunter can reflect on that incredible night at the Ballymena Showgrounds with a great deal of pride.

The former Irish League centre-back said: "I think we proved last year that young local players have nothing to be afraid of when they go up against foreign players.

"The truth is that young lads from countries like Spain and Mexico sometimes are more technically gifted, but if you believe in yourself and you're well drilled then there is no reason why you can't compete with anybody in the world.

"If you look at what Michael O'Neill achieved with Northern Ireland this summer, a lot of that was down to convincing our players that they were good enough to compete with the best players in Europe.

"It takes me back to my time at Linfield. David Jeffrey used to win the match with his team talk in the dressing room before a ball was kicked.

"You've got to go on to the field believing in yourself, no matter where you're from."

This year, County Antrim will return as reigning champions, but Hunter is keen to point out that the title of 'holders' is a false one.

"It's funny, people will look at us as defending champions, but it doesn't really work that way in youth football because it's a different age group," said Hunter.

"Only three of the lads who were in last year's squad are back for this year.

"I've no doubt people will look at us in a slightly different manner because we won the tournament last year but we certainly won't be harking back to it inside the camp. We feel that talking about last year's success would only put pressure on the young lads, and we don't want that.

"This is basically a new group. They're a very talented bunch in their own right, but they have three difficult games in qualifying.

"We have three tough qualifying games but we've worked hard in training and I think we can perform well."

Antrim's Premier team (Under-17) will start the defence of their crown with a repeat of last year's final against Club America in Broughshane on Monday. Hunter's boys will then play Londonderry at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Tuesday, before taking on Real Sociedad in Limavady on Wednesday.

Antrim's Junior side (Under-15) will play North Dublin, Right to Dream and GPS Bayern.

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