NORTHERN IRELAND boss, Michael O’Neill believes the Hughes Insurance Foyle Cup has proved invaluable for the development of young footballers in Derry and the North West region.
SIMON COLLINS reports
The Ballymena man was guest of honour at the official launch of the 2012 tournament at the City Hotel on Wednesday night and he heaped praise on the organisers and volunteers who make the festival of football such a huge success.
Current N. Ireland internationals, Paddy McCourt, Danny Lafferty and Shane Ferguson have all began their careers with teams in the Derry & District F.A. and have benefited from partaking in the competition.
And O’Neill insists the Foyle Cup will continue to be a launch-pad into a professional career for so many young Derry players who could be ‘discovered’ as a result of playing in the tournament.
“It’s a fantastic tournament,” said O’Neill. “I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to play in it because my youth football days were behind me when it was launched in 1992. But I know how important it is for young players to get a chance to showcase their talents against, not only the best teams in their area, but also the best teams across the globe.
“Having spoken to numerous clubs in England and their Academy Directors, the value they put on this tournament in terms of bench-marking what standard their own players are at, is enormous.
“The tournament thrives year on year, despite the challenges the organisers face from an economic point of view. Every year they manage to top the previous year and I’m sure it will prove another success this year.
“They’ve managed to attract teams from overseas and there’s always a cost for teams to come and visit and that’s testament to the organising committee and Michael Hutton in particular.
“You look at the range of teams and it’s a great opportunity for the players in Derry to show what they’re capable of.
“This tournament, for many young players, is their first experience of what going into professional football is going to be like.
“Derry’s always produced good players and the Foyle Cup is just a platform for them to showcase what they’re capable of. It’s a huge event for any young player.”
The tournament, which is in its 20th year, will have its biggest ever entry with 164 teams playing a total of 444 games over the five day event.
And around 80 referees will volunteer to officiate the various matches which are held in the Derry City, Strabane and Limavady Council areas from July 16th to 21st and includes a Ladies event.
The competition continues to blood promising young footballers from across the North West and Derry City boss, Declan Devine believes it’s an invaluable experience for local youngsters.
“From the squad I had for our last League game against Shelbourne there was 14 players that had taken part in the Foyle Cup in their early careers.
“This competition has proved invaluable because young players can test themselves against different formations, different teams, different youth leagues and some of the most professional clubs around Europe.
“Our U19 squad won the U19 Cup last year and four of those players are currently in our first team squad. As we’ve seen at Derry over the past few years the top players get the chance to move on and we’re delighted we’re once again involved in the Foyle Cup.”
Tournament Chairman, Michael Hutton, in acknowledging the growth of the tournament, expressed his delight that the event is still not only attracting a high quality of entry but an ever increasing entry of teams.
“When one thinks about the effect the recession is having on spending power, not just throughout Ireland and the UK but globally - it is remarkable to note that this year we will have by far our highest ever entry of teams and a huge input of visitors to the North West area.
“There is no other event quite like the Foyle Cup in that it is a highly competitive tournament but at the same time a true sporting event in every respect.
“The teams competing over the years have commented on the quality of playing surface, the high level of organisation and the friendliness of the local people.
“Those involved in Hotel & B&B business do so much to heighten the profile of this event as they strive to ensure that every single person staying throughout the week experiences a ‘True Derry City welcome’
More details regarding this year’s event can be viewed on tournament website www.foylecup.com