ST COLUMB’S College U14s made it a hat-trick of Northern Ireland Schools Cup titles in sensational style with a dominant victory over north west rivals, Holy Cross, Strabane at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium last Tuesday.
And it was a ‘proud moment’ for team manager, Ryan Horner who has now guided this side to U12, U13 and U14 trophies but particularly given they completed the three-in-a-row at the home of Derry City Football Club.
He now takes the newly crowned N.I. Cup champions to compete at the British Isles Championships in Belfast next month before ending his successful three-year association with this talented young side.
“They’ve won the Northern Ireland Cup three years in a row which is great,” said Mr Horner. “They’re going to the British Isles Championships to represent Northern Ireland at the end of May.
“Last year at the school sports awards presentations, I said to them I expect to be standing next year with the Northern Ireland Cup and with the British Isles trophy because they are good enough.
“And it’s going to take a hell of a good side to beat us,” he claimed. “We have a very tough draw again. On Thursday, May 23rd we play the champions of the Republic of Ireland. On the following Friday morning we play the champions of England. Hopefully on the Saturday we’ll be in the final.”
The last and only time St Columb’s College won the British Isles tournament was back in 2011 when a richly talented squad defeated Welsh side Pentrehafod High School at the University of Glamorgan Playing Fields in Cardiff.
That team boasted the services of several former and current Derry City footballers, including Charlton’s Mikhail Kennedy, Bristol City’s Rory Holden, Ben Doherty (Coleraine), Conor Quigley (Ballymena United) and Candy Stripes’ right-back, Conor McDermott.
As talented a side as that was, Mr Horner believes his current crop of players have the potential to replicate their achievements.
“We’ve won it in the past and I’ve challenged these guys to be as good as that team. In my opinion they are.
“That was the team of Mikhail Kennedy, Conor Quigley and Conor McDermott who are all playing at a good level now and making a living in the game. If these boys keep it up they will have a good future in the game as well.
“This is actually my third year with them. After the British Isles tournament I will be passing them on. I’ve three weeks left with them so I’ll try and enjoy it.”
On Tuesday, the Buncrana Road school dispatched of Holy Cross in ruthless fashion with five goals without reply in the first half, including a brace from star striker, Jack McFeely who scored in every round of the competition.
Sean Carlin stole the show with a terrific 25 yard free-kick while skipper, Oran Kelly finished expertly from inside the area two minutes before the break.
Conor Barr then completed his brace with a with a fine sole effort 10 minutes from time to cap a magnificent display from the Derry lads.
“We have high expectations from these boys and told them to go and enjoy the final,” added Horner.
“It’s a Derry final at the new Brandywell. So even for me, as a Derry person, it was a proud moment to lead them out.
“We’ve had many a College final and sometimes they’re taken for granted. They’re normally in Ballymena so it’s great to have it on our doorsteps.
“They’ve been a real credit to the school so I’m really proud of them.”
Horner also acknowledged the work done by the players' clubs and the entire Junior Derry and District, admittin:, 'I'm under no illusion as to who is developing these youngsters! My job in school is to develop them as a team, which is not what my aim is when at my own club where I focus on developing individual players.
"I think our continued success totally underlines that the unsung volunteers involved in youth football in the town and the entire Derry and District Committee are doing wonderful things with our youth as I've no doubt that many of these players will go on to play at a very high level."