St Columb's College aiming for Schools' Cup glory
St Columb’s College will aim for back to back Danske Bank Schools’ Cup successes when they take on Integrated College Dungannon, at Windsor Park tomorrow afternoon (KO 12.30pm).
The College, who defeated St Louis Grammar in last year’s Under 18 section, are expecting a tough test against their Dungannon counterparts but coach James Green believes the hard work and dedication the squad has put in this year will pay off at the National Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
"We're going for the cup for two years in a row and I don't think the U18 section has ever been defended. I would have to check the history books but I'm pretty sure the U18 section has never been won back to back,” he insisted.
"All the boys are really looking forward to the final and hopefully all their efforts can be rewarded because they have so many club commitments, school commitments and other commitments. We've trained before school so they've been coming into every Tuesday morning before school, trained all the way through the winter, so fair play to them and this the start of their reward for all the extra work that they'll done this year.
"Hopefully, if they can actually win it, that would be thee reward they deserve for all the effort that they've put in.”
Green also admits he has concerns over the condition of the Windsor Park pitch going into tomorrow afternoon’s encounter.
Mr. Green has been running the team this year alongside former Institute defender Mark Scoltock but has worries over the Windsor Park surface, especially after Sunday’s Bet McLean Cup final in which Linfield defeated Coleraine.
Already this season Blues’ boss David Healy has been very critical of the surface at the National Stadium.
"I think because there was a game on Windsor Park pitch on Sunday, we're worried about the quality of the pitch," insisted Mr. Green.
“The final is between two good football teams. We know all about Integrated College, Dungannon and obviously we know our own strengths and both teams like to play, so hopefully it can be a showcase final.
"Usually when people talk of schools’ football they think the level isn't that high, but I think we'll show them that the level is high.”
The final will again be streamed live on the Irish Football Association’s YouTube channel tomorrow afternoon and Green, a Leicester City supporter, hopes his boys can perform on the big stage.
"The game is going to be streamed live and I know this time last year, when they were in the final, all the classes who couldn't make it but they watched it on the live stream. Hopefully we'll get a good vibe going throughout the school again,” he added.
"Look, it's a big ask but it's stuff I suppose you dream off as a kid growing up, playing in a schools’ cup final in a big stadium and it being live on TV or these days, being streamed live on-line so we just hope it works out for us."
Green was also quick to point out that a lot of his squad are playing at a very high level with both local senior and junior clubs such as Derry City, Institute, Coleraine and Tristar.
Over the years the likes Aaron McEneff, Mikhail Kennedy, Ben Doherty and Conor McDermott have all tasted Schools’ Cup glory with St. Columb’s and Green hopes the 2023 squad can grasp their chance.
He describes today’s final as the perfect stage for players to showcase their talent and show that they can perform on the big occasion, using young Joe Curran as someone who grabbed his chance with both hands after he secured a place in the Northern Ireland U18 squad because of his performance in last year’s final.
"We're very fortunate with the quality of players that come through here,” he added. “There are big links with the local clubs. Off the top of my head this year, you've got the likes of Derry City, Institute, Coleraine, Tristar, Trojans and Phoenix so there's a good representation, especially for the older age groups, and that's what you want to see.
"You want to give them a platform to show their ability and their talent.
"Last year it worked for Joe Curran who, because the final was live streamed, was brought into the Northern Ireland U18 squad and then he actually played in the Centenary Shield. So the opportunities are there if they go out and perform on the day.”