Inspirational pep-talk from Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins fires Trojans to U17 Cup victory

AN inspirational pre-match pep-talk from Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins at Brandywell Stadium helped fire Trojans’ talented U17s squad to a memorable victory in the NIBFA Northern Ireland U17 Cup Final.

By Simon Collins
Thursday, 5th May 2022, 12:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th May 2022, 12:37 pm
Derry boss Ruaidhri Higgins pictured with the triumphant Trojans team at Brandywell before the cup final.
Derry boss Ruaidhri Higgins pictured with the triumphant Trojans team at Brandywell before the cup final.

The City boss was invited to address the young Creggan team before they made their way to the Lurgan Town Arena for the Subway sponsored NIBFA U17 Cup showpiece on Bank Holiday Monday and he was delighted to later learn of their 2-1 triumph over Belfast club, Celtic Boys.

“It’s nice to be asked to do those sorts of things,” said Higgins. “We had a bit of a chat and it was great to hear they got the job done and brought the trophy back. I was actually waiting on the result.”

Trojans graduate and current Ireland international James McClean’s football journey was used as a motivational tool by the Derry supremo who encouraged the club’s U17 representatives to ‘fight for everything’ in their bid for silverware.

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The Trojans U17 team who were crowned NIBFA Northern Ireland U17 Cup champions after victory over Celtic Boys in Lurgan.

The pathway from Derry & District Youth football to Derry City is one well trodden and Higgins hopes some of the current crop of Trojans players can go on to make the successful transition to senior football.

“James McClean actually went down that route (moving from Trojans to Derry City) and I used James as an example when we were having a chat. Trojans is a brilliant club. Raymond Carton has devoted his life to that club and for people like him, days like that are extremely special. I suppose it’s all a result of his hard work and the rest of the coaches at the club. People like Raymond really deserve it.”

The Trojans club, jointly managed by Jim McGuinness, George Dunlop and Niall Creagh have faced no shortage of adversity on their route to the final. It was a journey which began back in Kilkeel in October 2019 before Covid brought an abrupt end to junior football.

Refusing to let their hopes of being crowned Northern Ireland champions fade, the Trojans team stayed together and rekindled their trophy hunt when the tournament resumed at the quarter-final stage.

Trojans coaches, Niall Creagh, George Dunlop, club chairman, Paddy McLarn and Jim McGuinness with the Subway NIBFA Cup.

Their last game before the Covid-enforced postponement was against Celtic Boys in a last 16 tie and their journey came full circle as they met the Belfast boys once again to decide the final.

Impressive victories over Derry rivals, Tristar (3-1), Aquinas (3-2), Dundela (4-0) and Glentoran (4-1) saw them claim their place in the final and coach, McGuinness said he was confident they would go all the way such was his team’s determination and hunger for success. Indeed, it was a case of ‘unfinished business’ for the Derry boys after the long break.

“These boys are a group of boys who have been together for a long time,” explained McGuinness. “Through Covid they stayed together when other teams folded. They did everything that was asked of them and ultimately got their just rewards.

“They worked hard to get to the quarter-finals pre-Covid in 2020 and then everything was closed down. It was a big disappointment for them. So it felt like unfinished business.

“They bounced back from losing in the final of the League Cup 1-0 to Shankill so it was a great response. They showed terrific character and resilience.

“They are a 2005 team playing in the U18 National League and holding their own so they can be very proud. They were drawn away in every game in the Northern Ireland Cup. Tristar was the only real home game but we were drawn as the away side in that fixture as well. We beat Tristar 3-1 and went on to beat Belfast side, Aquinas, after the first game was postponed due to the sudden passing of one of their players. We then agreed to travel to Aquinas and play and we won that 3-2 to take us into the quarter-finals.

“In the semi-final against Glentoran we went a goal down but came back to win 4-1 and book our place in the final.

“It’s a great credit to the players and their character. It’s a very close-knit team and they were focussed on winning the cup.

“You could see that in the photograph taken with Ruaidhri Higgins before the game, they all looked switched on and they did everything right on the day.”

So how much did the Derry manager’s ‘special’ teamtalk affect the boys’ performance on the day?

“Ruaidhri’s talk went down very well with the boys,” continued McGuinness, “They were well set up and focussed for the match anyway and it was nice for them to have someone who they look up to come and talk to them. So it was special.

“It was a really nice way to start the day. They went to the Brandywell to listen to Ruaidhri and then we took them to Kelly’s in Omagh for a nice feed before heading on up the road to Lurgan Sports Arena for the match.”

Trojans made a blistering start to the final as they stunned their opponents with a goal from Zac Dougherty after just six and a half minutes to settle any nerves in front of a large attendance of 100 plus spectators. The ball was played into a packed penalty area by Ryan McLaughlin and Dougherty rose highest to power his header into the back of the net.

Harry Boyd added a second to ultimately seal the win eight minutes into the second half and despite conceding with five minutes to go, it was a thoroughly deserved victory for the Derry outfit who simply ‘wanted it more’ according to McGuinness.

“Celtic Boys scored in the last five minutes and that made it very nervy if I’m being honest but our boys wanted it more than the other team and were always in control. Ruaidhri (Higgins) said to them that Derry people have to fight for everything they get and that’s what this team did.”

With five games to play in the NIBFA U18 National League, last year’s D&D Winter and Summer Cup champions now have their eyes on a second placed finish which would round off a terrific season. Not bad for a team who have another year to play at the age group!

“We missed the U17s campaign because of Covid but the challenge for this year was to win the Northern Ireland cup and we achieved that. To do well in the league this year is a bonus given we are playing in the U18 league so there’s a bright future for this team.”

For now, it’s back to porridge for the Trojans club who return to National League U18 duty tonight against Rosario at the Joe McAree Stadium (kick-off 7.45p.m.).