HOPES are high that the Tyrone Juniors can present a realistic challenge for honours at this week’s SuperCupNI tournament.
At under-15 level they are regarded the strongest of the county sides, based on results in pre-competition tournaments, and manager Martin (Hen) Gallagher, rates his squad the best in his three years in charge.
The Juniors played 18 games in the build-up, winning 14, drawing three and losing just the once. No Tyrone team has ever won the famed international tournament but there is a feeling this could perhaps be their year despite the fact that one of their opening three games is against tournament favourites Manchester United.
Gallagher is quietly confident that he has a team, on paper at least, which can challenge but acknowledges that his players will have to deliver on the biggest stage of all.
And he has warned them about focusing too much on playing the young Red Devils.
“The last game against Colina could be the hardest one,” he said.
“As we found out to our cost last year, it’s very difficult to qualify for the cup itself.
“We just missed out on goal difference, so you can’t really afford to lose any of your three games.
“We need to win out first game against Bracknell Town and take it from there. I’m hammering home the message that the players need to stop concentrating too much on Man United. Big teams come and go.
“On paper this is the best team I have had, we have strength in depth throughout the squad and that will allow us to rotate which is so important in tournament football.
“Anything is possible but as we all know these things can boil down to very fine margins. One bad result and the challenge could be over.”
Tyrone have locked horns with the next generation of United superstars twice in recent years.
In 2012 the county’s Premier team famously defeated the Old Trafford young guns 2-0 at Castlederg’s Darragh Park with goals by Jamie Glackin and current Tyrone GAA star Cathal McShane but the following year the United boys gained their revenge when an injury-time header by Oliver McBurney defeated the county U17s in the showpiece final at the Ballymena showgrounds.
According to Gallagher playing against the young Red Devils is a challenge to relish and not to fear. The manager insists his team, which includes just two players from last year, captain Sean O’Hare and Cameron Crook, is good enough if they have the belief.
“The boys have shown they’re good enough, they have to believe it. On their day they are capable,” he said.
“They need to go out and relax, enjoy it and play their football.”