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Why I'm following Irish League route to professional football, explains SuperCupNI's top player Jake Corbett

By Gareth Hanna

A wee farmer from nowhere to Irish League star; that's the goal of the SuperCupNI's Premier Section Player of the Tournament Jake Corbett.

The Linfield midfielder joined the likes of Keith Gillespie and Nick Barmby on the coveted award's list of winners at the famous youth tournament last week after leading his County Down side to the final.

It's not bad for a 17-year-old from 'somwhere between Dromore and Kinallen' and he's already formulated a plan to make sure it's just the beginning.

That's the whole point of the tournament - to launch careers - and being named top player is enough to alert scouts from the great and the good of the footballing world.

Lesser minds may jump from satisfaction of a good week on the north coast to dreams of a career across the water in seconds, but Jake has more targetted thoughts than that.

Rather than itching to move into full-time football straight away, he's determined to make his name in the grounding of the Irish League first.

He's seen the progress made by Liam Boyce (Burton Albion), Paul Smyth (QPR) and Bobby Burns (Hearts) thanks to the headlines they hit in local football.

And that's a route that he's already decided to follow.

"I've made an agreement with myself that I'm not going to rush to go over the water but that I want to get a contract here for a couple of years and see where that takes me," he said.

"I want to stay here and impress as Bobby Burns did. He has now got a move over and is straight in to playing first team football already at Hearts.

"It's not that I'm following him or anything but it's the route I want to go down."

That’s my boy: Co Down captain Jake Corbett gets a kiss from his proud mum

He does know what he's talking about - Corbett was offered a two-year scholarship by Bristol Rovers before breaking his ankle in March last year having also sampled life at Nottingham Forest.

Time on the sidelines has helped him to form a strategy not just for football but also a plan B.

This year, he's off to study sport science at Lisburn Tech with a view to going on to university at Jordanstown if full-time football hasn't come calling by then.

"I did get a little bit homesick when I had been over in England before but that didn't really faze me, I just think the Irish League is the path to go down for now," he said.

"The main aim is to try and impress the boss at Linfield (David Healy) or to get into an Irish League first-team somewhere at a top four or five club if I can," he said.

"I want to get a professional contract at a club here, not as quickly as I can because I'm still only 17 but that's what I'm working towards.

"Hopefully the SuperCupNI has helped that and if I can start the season well, maybe I can progress and make the step up at some stage."

With the eyes of Irish League clubs on the tournament last week, Linfield look to have a fight on their hands to keep him.

His displays even earned a phone-call from the Northern Ireland U19s coaching staff - that's the type of call you get after being named Player of the Tournament, even if he's not going to big the award up too much himself.

"I was down on the pitch and one of the stewards just came over and said 'are you number 8? Don't be going anywhere, you've another award to collect'," he laughed.

"I had no idea what it was but it was great to win it. I was looking down at the names on the trophy - good company to be in.

"I was just so focused on taking the opportunity and playing well for the team.

"I never thought about winning the individual award and even now that I've done it, I put the trophy in the cabinet and haven't really thought about it since.

"It was all about how the team did and if we had managed to win the SuperCupNI, that would have been much more important."

They came mighty close too, his County Down side beaten 2-0 in the final by Serie B Italia.

Before that, they managed to see off Club America, Ichifuna and Desportes Iquique after an opening day thriller against Newcastle United.

"It was a brilliant run," Corbett reflected. "We knew going up there that we probably had the toughest group and we all thought it would be great just to get out of it.

"You have to put the hard work and preparation in when you're coming up against those sort of clubs from all over the world.

"We did that. We were working for six weeks before the tournament and our coach John Bailie had us running every night, making sure we were ready.

"On Monday, we got up and went for a walk to the beach before we played Newcastle in our opening game but by that stage we all knew we were ready.

"They scored very late on but for a county team that had been together for six weeks to get a draw against the likes of Newcastle was a great result and that just kicked the whole run off for us.

"It's basically like being a professional footballer. Everything is done right and the training really gets you in shape.

"When the season begins with Linfield now, we're going to be in good shape going into it and it's all down to the SuperCupNI."

It's back with the Blues that Corbett's focus now lies - this young farmer from nowhere is determined to become the Irish League's next big thing.

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