STAR striker Corey McLaughlin wasn’t expected to make it to Wednesday’s N. Ireland Schools’ Final through illness but the St Columb’s College hitman’s presence in front of goal proved vital as his first half strike ended a five year wait for Minor Cup glory.
It was feared McLaughlin, who had scored in almost every round of the competition, would miss the trip to the Ballymena Showgrounds with suspected glandular fever, but he returned from his sick bed in time to fire St Columb’s to a battling win.
The striker’s 13th minutes goal against pre-match favourites, Belfast Boys’ Model, was enough to win an intense battle in the U12 showpiece to add to the College’s 2010 and 2011 victories in the competition.
So a third Minor Cup triumph for the Buncrana Road school and it was the toughest of them all, according to coach, Ryan Horner, who has managed nine Under-12 squads and reached five finals.
“I would put this one down as the toughest final yet,” said Horner. “It was easily the most intense final I’ve been involved in from start to finish.
“I believe the first year tournament is the most difficult to win and it’s the most unpredictable but this one was a long time coming.”
It was easily the most intense final I’ve been involved in from start to finish.Ryan Horner
And, while he praised the entire squad for a superb win, he reserved special praise for the goalscorer.
“The only round Corey didn’t score in was against Ashford in the first round and he had a couple of chances in that game, too,” added the St Columb’s coach. “As a manager, knowing Corey McLaughlin is in your team, you expect him to score. He’s a great asset to have.
“We spend a lot of time going through set-pieces and, on the Monday on the training ground, I reminded Corey to pick up a position between the goalkeeper and the back post and he would get goals. And that’s where he got his goal from and that’s what won us the match.
“He’s been vital for us throughout. He actually had suspected glandular fever last week and was off school so he was very doubtful for the final so it’s a great achievement.
“We probably didn’t play to our potential and the occasion probably got to both teams. You forget how young the players are. Both teams were certainly very nervous. I hoped the goal would settle us down a bit but it didn’t the way I expected.”
St Columb’s keeper JP Shiels also produced a stunning save with the scores level in the first half and Horner felt it changed the course of the game.
“JP Shiels pulled off a fantastic save. It was the match changer. We could have played better but we got over the line. And deservedly so!”