Sheffield United 1 Manchester United 2 – Milk Cup Premier Final

August 1, 2009

This was written for the Sheffield Star


Sheffield United under 17s came within a last minute penalty claim to upsetting the odds and capping off a memorable week in Northern Ireland as they lost narrowly to Manchester United in their first appearance in the Milk Cup Premier Final. The Blades had reached the latter stages on goal difference and defeated F.C. Porto on penalties in Thursday’s semi-final in the prestigious youth tournament, which this year featured 50 teams from 18 countries.

Despite starting brightly with Shane Murray giving the opposing goalkeeper problems from distance, United fell behind to the defending champions on 16 minutes, when good link up play between Robbie Brady and Michael Ngoo saw the latter squeeze in the opener despite the best efforts of Sam Andrew and Terry Kennedy. United continued to close down the favourites effectively, and were almost rewarded at the end of the first half but Corey Gregory’s header went wide.

In the second half the match fell victim to the miserable conditions and tired legs in what was the teams’ fifth match in as many days. United hopes faded when on 52 minutes slick passing saw Etzaz Hussain finish the move he started, slotting home past the unfortunate Andrew.

The Blades continued to press however, and Murray continued to deliver dangerous set pieces. In stoppage time, it was a free kick swung in by the midfielder that caused confusion, leaving Kennedy to slot home from six yards. Moments later the referee turned down loud claims for a penalty after a United player was felled in the box.

Sheffield United (4-4-2) Sam Andrew, Kalum O’Kane, Harry Maguire (sub Joe Ironside 69), Terry Kennedy, Kingsley James (sub Liam Wilkinson 58), Kingsley Williams, Shane Murray, Jordan Stew, Ishmael Lammy (sub Elliot Witehouse 58), Corey Gregory (sub Troy Pennybrooke Morgan 53), Callum McFadzean
Coach: Kevin Fogg

Manchester United (4-4-2) Samuel Johnstone, Michael Keane, Ezekiel Fryers, Sean McGinty, Thomas Thorpe, Ravel Morrison, Etzaz Hussain, William Keane, Robbie Brady, John Cofie, Michael Ngoo
Coach: Paul McGuiness


Manchester United and Northern Ireland: A Special Bond

January 5, 2007

Published: Happy Days Issue 8 and, 5th January 2007,

At the beginning of last year, while visiting a friend in Manchester I decided to make the most of the opportunity and head down to Old Trafford. Manchester United is a club steeped in history, and the on-site museum ensured that I was reminded of this. The Munich air crash of 1958 followed by European success ten years later, the troublesome seventies and the Fergie Era. The stories which had been written on the football field were being treasured and told to a younger generation some 50 feet away. However the one display that dominated the ground floor of the club museum was a tribute to the then recently deceased George Best. It served as a poignant reminder of a Northern Ireland connection with arguably the most famous club in the world. Indeed a glance at the museum’s International honours list shows an impressive number of players who have represented both the Red Devils and Northern Ireland. No club can boast more Ulster representatives than the Manchester outfit.
Whilst George Best is undoubtedly the most recognisable link, no fewer than 28 players have appeared in both the Red and Green shirts, notching up over 750 caps between them. Recognisable names like Best, Sammy McIlroy and Jimmy Nicholl jump out from the engraved list. History makers too such as John Peden who scored Ireland’s first hat trick and Norman Whiteside who became the youngest ever player to appear in a World Cup in 1982. Survivors of the Munich disaster, Harry Gregg and Jackie Blanchflower are names held in high esteem on both sides of the Irish Sea. The crash ended Blanchflower’s career and Gregg became a named associated with courage, although the big Coleraine man is quick to stifle any attempts to label him a hero. It is true he should be remembered for his performances between the sticks, yet many people seek to define him through what he did that night on the runway.

Recent years too have seen Irishmen emerging from the home dressing room at the Theatre of Dreams. Keith Gillespie and David Healy may not have featured highly in Alex Ferguson’s plans but their pedigree upbringing has benefited the national team immensely. The same cannot be said of Pat McGibbon and Phil Mulryne who never lived up to their youthful potential. The former finds himself back home in the Irish League with Portadown and the latter who is reaching the supposed peak years of his career has yet to find a club for the 2006/07 season. Roy Carroll did make a name for himself at Old Trafford, although unfortunately it was more due to some high profile mistakes rather than his shot stopping ability. He remains however, the only Ulsterman to have won a Premiership medal.
And the future for both club and country is bright. Whilst Derry born Darron Gibson has opted to play for the Republic, Jonny Evans has the opportunity to prove to Ferguson he has every right to be involved in the first team if he performs well under another Irishman, Roy Keane, at Sunderland. His younger brother Corey and Craig Cathcart who are also on United’s books, are two more names that might just be engraved in that honours list someday. As long as Northern Ireland keep producing, and Manchester keeps nurturing, there will always be a special relationship between the two, and some successful teams as well.