WATCH: St Columb's U12s to defend Schools' Cup trophy in Ballymena

St Columb's College Under-12s coach, Mr Ryan Horner insists his team face a 'colossal task' in their bid to retain the N. Ireland Schools' Cup trophy when they take on North West rivals Holy Cross in tomorrow's showpiece at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

The Buncrana Road school have dominated the N.I.S.F.A. Finals day in recent years and once again will have three teams representing Derry at the home of Irish Premiership outfit, Ballymena United in the U12, U14 and U16 deciders.

Following a heartbreaking extra-time defeat to New Grosvenor in the U18 Final at Seaview on St Patrick's Day, it's a chance to make up for that disappointment three-fold tomorrow afternoon.

The College U12s have enjoyed outstanding success in the competition and Mr Horner has helped guide them to SIX N.I Schools' Cup Finals during his 10 years as manager! Having won three times during that time, he reckons his young side face a tough test of their credentials as they bid to retain the trophy tomorrow afternoon.

“This is my tenth year as manager of the St Columb’s College under 12, soccer team," said Mr Horner. "!We have been very fortunate in that we have reached six finals but without doubt this has been our most difficult passage so far. Credit must go to the full squad of players who have overcome very difficult opposition to get here!”

Coaches Xavier Prigent and James Green also heaped praise on their players for their endeavour throughout the entire campaign. Prigent admitted, “It has been an extensive and taxing campaign but the attitude of the boys since the start has made it all worthwhile.

The St Columb's College team who will compete in the Under-12 N. Ireland Schools' Cup Final against Holy Cross in Ballymena Showgrounds

The St Columb's College team who will compete in the Under-12 N. Ireland Schools' Cup Final against Holy Cross in Ballymena Showgrounds

"They have trained vigorously every week and deserve success.” Green added, “I have been impressed by both the quality and industry of all the young lads involved. They are a huge credit to the school and it is a privilege to work with them on and off the pitch.”

All three coaches expressed their deep gratitude to the parents of the boys for their continued support and encouragement with Horner commenting: “Without them, the exemplary attendance to training would be impossible.” Horner concluded by thanking team sponsor, Qualivend for their support throughout the year.

St Columb’s College U12's epic journey to the 2017 final began back in October 2016 when they were drawn at home against Saint Patrick’s, Lisburn, recording a most impressive 9 – 0 victory.

Influential captain, Oran Kelly, opened the scoring from the penalty spot, following a foul on Shae Feeney after excellent work by Myles Kehoe on the College left. Next talisman, Marc Kirk helped himself to an impressive brace before the evergreen, Sevan Albay and the effervescent, Eoin Doherty opened their accounts, ending the game as a contest before half-time.

The second half was all about goal-machine, Jack McFeely, adding further gloss to the score-line, netting a remarkable four goals in fifteen minutes, ensuring his side’s safe path into the last 16 of the illustrious competition.

Up next was a tough looking tie away to County Fermanagh side, Enniskillen Royal. This proved to be the case as the College lads struggled to break down a stubborn defence but it was that man, O’Doherty who added another to his tally following great work by Oisin Lynch, Adam Tiernan and Daire McGonigle on the College right to put the boys through to the last eight by a very tight and tense 1-0 scoreline.

Indeed, the College youngsters were indebted to the excellence of ‘keeper Joseph McConnellogue and their solid back four of Peter Tracey, Evan McGilloway, Callum McCarron and Ciaran McLaughlin who fought hard to prevent their opponents from equalising.

At the quarter-final stage, Saint Columb’s knew they had a stern obstacle to overcome when they were drawn against Belfast giants, St Malachy’s College. However, man of the match, Sean Carlin grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck early on, setting up 'goal machine', Paul Keogh to open his account. However, College ‘keeper, Tiarnan Morrison was soon called into action, pulling off a magnificent finger tipped save, ensuring his team remained in front before McFeely rounded off yet another fantastic individual display when diverting J.P. Owens’ cross into the top corner, putting St Columb’s into the last four with an impressive 2 -0 scoreline.

Next up was a journey to Moyola for what proved a very hard fought semi–final against an extremely well organised, Devenish College. A lot of credit must go to the Fermanagh side who gave their Derry rivals little time to settle on the ball. They clearly did their homework, stopping St Columb’s from playing their normal passing game and when Devenish took an early lead, the Derry lads knew the odds were stacked against them reaching another final.

Despite this, the College young guns pressed for an equaliser and this came on the stroke of half-time, following neat work from Joshua Callaghan and a thunderous strike from Lee Duddy. St Columb’s came out a different team in the second half but had to wait until the last kick of the game to book their place in the final.

Just as the referee was about to blow the full-time whistle, signalling extra-time captain, Kelly floated the ball into the Devenish box where the clinical Keogh was on hand to smash the ball into the net, sparking great scenes of celebration from the College youngsters.

Player Profiles:

The St Columb’s U12s squad consists of 21 players with every member making an invaluable contribution to the team reaching the final.

Oran Kelly (Defender and Captain): An influential captain who makes his team tick. He loves to break up the play and start attacks with his excellent range of passing. If he is on song in the final, he could give his team a vital edge, posing enormous danger with his dead ball expertise as well.

Paul Keogh (Midfield and Joint Vice-Captain): A busy and competitive player who has a fine range of passing, freeing those around him. He is difficult to dispossess, linking up well with his strikers and has an eye for goal as he has shown throughout the competition. A true winner who brings so much to his team!

Jack McFeely (Striker and Joint Vice-Captain): Arguably, the most skilful player in the squad who has come up with a lot of important goals. He holds the ball up to great effect, bringing others into play whilst terrorising opposition defences with his ‘box of tricks.’ A real handful for any defender who will be hoping to score in the final to add to his already impressive tally!

Joseph McConnellogue (‘keeper): Undoubtedly, the unsung hero of the squad with his top class shot stopping in the early rounds. He has not conceded a goal in progressing to the final and is a major reason why his team are there.

Tiarnan Morrison (‘keeper): A top class ‘keeper who is not only an excellent shot stopper but his distribution is superb as well. Has played a massive part in getting his team to the final!

Peter Tracey: A tall and powerful defender who leads by example, missing little in the air or on the ground. He poses a real threat to the opposition from set pieces also and is a vital ingredient of the team.

Shae Feeney (Defender): A quality defender who can also operate in midfield due to his immense ability on the ball, giving his team a real spark. His enthusiasm for the game is an inspiration for the rest of his team.

Oisin Lynch (Defender): Certainly the most versatile and honest player in the squad. Can operate anywhere in the back four to equal effect, which is a wonderful option for his team.

Evan McGilloway (Defender): A powerful centre half who is excellent in possession, which helps his team play out from the back. Loves defending and getting involved in the play, which is a tremendous asset for his team.

Myles Kehoe (Defender): Can operate at left back or centre half, which has proved vital for his team. A no nonsense defender who stops all in his way, using his excellent range of passing and dribbling ability to start attacks.

Ciaran McLaughlin (Defender): A tough tackling full back who never shirks from a challenge. Will put his foot and head in where others wouldn’t dare. He is not afraid to get forward and uses the ball very well when in possession.

Adam Tiarnan (Defender): A powerful centre half who lets nothing get past him and loves a tackle, making him most forwards’ worst nightmare.

Callum McCarron (Defender): A terrific full back who loves to get involved in the action. He is only too happy to cover for his centre half’s when required and is not afraid to pour forward when given the opportunity.

Sean Carlin (Midfield): The ‘midfield general’ of the team who loves to break up play and start attacks with his wide range of passing. Arguably, the most intelligent player in the squad who reads the game very well. He likes to get forward also, which is a great outlet for his team.

J.P. Owens (Midfield): Has incredible dribbling ability and unlocks opposition defences with his direct running on the ball. Possesses great pace as well as being an impressive crosser and certainly has a significant role to play in the final.

Lee Duddy (Midfield): A forward thinking midfielder who has an eye for goal. Has a tremendous first touch and loves running at defenders with the ball, providing crosses for the front men.

Joshua Callaghan (Midfield): A creative midfielder who torments defenders with his excellent range of passing and ability on the ball. He has an eye for goal and on his day can be a match winner.

Daire McGonigle (Midfield): Can operate on the right or left to equal effect, which has proved very important to his team. Always plays with a smile on his face and his energy levels and range of passing are a great example for the rest of his team.

Mark Kirk (Striker): A hard-working front man who loves to link up play. He is also fantastic in the air, which could prove vital in the final!

Eoin Doherty (Striker): The most natural finisher in the squad who possesses an exquisite first touch. However, he is much more than just a goal scorer, working tirelessly for his team. He has the ability to run with the ball, teasing defences, offering an immense outlet, holding the ball up to great effect, bringing his team mates into the game.

Sevan Albay (Striker): A very technical frontman who is a nightmare for opposition defences when he is on his game. Has excellent dribbling ability and provides a real spark for the rest of his team.