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


Northern Ireland v Everton: What’s the point?

July 14, 2007

Published: Happy Days Issue 8

Northern Ireland v Everton – What’s the point?

So, half an Everton team beat a Northern Ireland side featuring four regular squad players in a match where neither set of players were at full fitness levels. What did anyone learn from this? For David Moyes, it was a chance to assess how his young players cope playing with seasoned first teamers and to further his players’ progress towards match fitness; but those who turned out for the Northern Ireland ‘select’ could easily have done that with the clubs that employ them. For Nigel Worthington, cleverly disguised as Roy Millar, he will have picked up very little from watching this drab 90 minutes that he couldn’t have found out from you or me.

Irish League players can’t cut it at International level. Sure in days gone by there were exceptions, but can you really convince me that Peter Thompson or Gary Hamilton have set the International stage alight? The only one who can claim to have made and impact in Europe in recent years is Glenn Ferguson, but I’m not sure being banned from Prague is quite what we’re looking for. Oval hero Hamilton was back for this match to show that he is more suited to the ‘big fish-small pond’ scenario. Alongside him was Kevin Braniff, showing good upper body strength and aerial ability, but demonstrating the main indication of his Irish League status, that is the ‘first touch syndrome’. That six Irish league players took part, along with a string of players from the lower English and Scottish leagues who were all captained by the unemployed Stephen Lomas pretty much sums up the quality on show. This was dubbed a showpiece match and had the players featured in the match programme squad lists turned up it would have been. But they didn’t so it wasn’t.

Now far be it for me to be pessimistic and condemning against a Milk Cup committee who persuaded the Irish FA that this would be a good idea. That they also persuaded me to purchase a ticket at £18 so that I could watch my childhood heroes Sean Webb and Sammy Morrow deserves credit also. As a marketing ploy (and I see it as little else) this was a financial success. The committee played the 25th anniversary card spot on. If half the Everton squad turned up to my 25th Anniversary I’d be reasonably happy although I’d be keeping an eye on the thirst and antics of Shandy van der Meyde. However, as much of a success as it was for the Milk Cup and its ego, it was equally a waste of time for Nigel Worthington. How many of these players changed the manager’s mind about whether or not they deserve a full cap? Dean Holden said he would walk from Falkirk to Windsor for the chance – Thing is Dean, so would I. And I’m crap. Holden played well, along with several other players including Keith O’Hara, but did they really show enough to say I deserve to play against Denmark, Spain, Sweden? I doubt it.

Now perhaps I’m mellowing as I get older, but I thought Ciaran Toner actually looked the part. He not only looked energetic and committed, but showed glimpses of quality in his passing and movement, particularly when he moved from right flank into the centre. There you go – A positive. It’s the only one I can find from an otherwise pointless affair.

Soccer Sight – Another triumph for ‘Football for All’

July 11, 2007

Published: Coleraine Times, 11th July 2007

Are you planning on heading down to Coleraine Showgrounds on Saturday to watch Northern Ireland XI against Everton?  Are you hoping to see attractive football and goals?  If you are, consider yourself fortunate.  In Northern Ireland there are 5000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted.  However, whilst there are many difficulties to be faced, sight problems do not seem to quench the passion for sport.  Football can overcome many obstacles and thanks to the RNIB, in conjunction with the Irish Football Association and the George Best Foundation, blind or visually impaired folks will still be able to take in the action and the atmosphere at this weeks showpiece match.  The project is called Soccer Sight and provides audio description via a personal receiver and transmitter.  It allows the blind or visually impaired person listening to sit in their normal seat with their mates rather than go to a special designated area to receive the commentary.  It was launched in March of this year and made its debut at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland’s 2-1 victory over Sweden

In order for the scheme to run smoothly and consistently, the IFA ran a competition via their website to find two commentators.  The winners of the competition, as judged by the BBC’s Joel Taggart were Brian Elliot of Newtownards and Robin Peake from Ballynahinch.  After a trial run at the Setanta Cup game between Linfield and Glentoran and some Visual Awareness training, the pair were put to the test for the European Championship qualifier.  Robin says “It’s fairly nervy, because you know that there are people listening who are forming opinions on the match from how accurately and objectively you describe what’s happening on the pitch.  I was surprised how tired you can get by concentrating on describing what’s going on, so it’s good to have Brian with me to break it up with his analysis.”  Funded by the George Best foundation, the system will allow older members of the crowd to still enjoy the atmosphere despite diminishing eyesight.  As Robin explains, it differs from Radio Commentary in a number of ways: “If you took a walkman and tuned into the game you might get interruptions as they cross over to other matches, but importantly a radio commentator is not as focused on describing what’s happening off the pitch, be it a manager fuming on the sideline, a substitute warming up or what is happening in the crowd.  These are things that make the football match experience whole, and for those who can hear the crowd react around them but not know what they are reacting to, that must be very frustrating.”

The Milk Cup team have decided to utilise the scheme for the 25th Anniversary Challenge match between Everton and a Northern Ireland select side.  As a result the equipment and commentators will be in place so that those with little or no eyesight, can still enjoy the full matchday experience.  If you know of anyone who may benefit from this scheme then contact Barry Macaulay at the RNIB on 90329373 or email

Northern Ireland’s Tomorrow’s Men

January 4, 2007

Published: Happy Days Issue 7 and, 4th January 2007,

2006 was a good year for the Green and White Army.
It was a year that saw an unlikely victory over Spain along with a battling draw in Denmark added to credible victories over Estonia, Finland and Latvia. It was a year which saw end times on the international scene for seasoned veteran Colin Murdock, with James Quinn likely to follow suit shortly. It was a year where Michael Duff, Chris Baird and especially Stephen Craigan have gained glowing recognition for their efforts, with some fine individual performances. Yet perhaps when we look back in five years time at 2006, it will be seen as a year in which many of our young stars began to shine. Sammy Clingan, Kyle Lafferty and Jonny Evans all made their international debuts, and all have been huge successes in the eyes of the Windsor Park faithful. And with all three playing regular League football, the future looks very bright indeed for Northern Ireland. The re-introduction of the under-21s has surely been a catalyst in this sudden burst of youth, and there is hope that there will be many more gems to be uncovered. So, who can we expect to see breaking onto the international scene in 2007 and beyond?

Daryl Fordyce
While many spectators at last summer’s Milk Cup turned out to see newly capped Kyle Lafferty, his strike partner went largely unnoticed. Portsmouth player, Daryl Fordyce bagged two goals against Turkey to outshine his colleague in the goal scoring charts. For those who know the Sandy Row lad, they could hardly have been expected to act surprised. A stunning feat of four goals against (the now defunct) Serbia and Montenegro under-19s in a tournament in Belgium saw his stock rise. The third goal in particular was a real peach, reminiscent of a young David Healy strike against the French under-21s shortly before his senior debut. In the next game against the hosts, he showed real guts and determination as well as vocal leadership to help the team turn around a 2-0 deficit to draw level, only to lose to a last minute winner. His commitment to the cause in that game was highlighted when at one stage he came charging back into his own third Rooney-esque, to win back possession for the team. His hunger to win unfortunately carried through as he was involved in a stoppage time infringement with the opposition goalkeeper, and whilst the red card was harsh, it should serve as a learning experience.

Verdict: He needs first team football to develop, so hopefully he can gain a loan spell to a lower division club. If Fordyce can carry his international form onto the club scene, and maintain his level headedness, then he can expect to be seen as a contender for senior recognition in the next 12 months
Craig Cathcart
Coming from Greenisland youth team, which has been acting as a feeder club for Manchester United of late with Jonny and, younger brother, Corey Evans signing for the Old Trafford outfit, Cathcart was the latest boy to be sent over the water. The Red Devils picked him up after the centre-back shone in the 2005 Victory Shield, and he went on to become virtually an ever present for the under 18s the next season. His good form (and the fact that he is part of a ?big club?) led to his selection in Roy Millar?s under-21 panel for the latest game against Germany, despite being only 17 at the time
Verdict: He certainly has youth on his side, and whether or not Sir Alex Ferguson decides to send him to feeder club Royal Antwerp at the start of next season will show just how highly he rates young Cathcart. Don’t expect to see him make his debut this incoming year, with plenty of defensive cover, but should Northern Ireland be eliminated from qualification before the final games, Sanchez may wish to give the boy a chance to prove himself.
Rory McArdle
Another centre-back, 19 year old McArdle was born and bred in Sheffield yet qualifies for Northern Ireland through his father. A physical defender in the old-fashioned mould, he is good in the air and strong in his challenges. He is also equally adept at providing an attacking threat from set-pieces as Paraguay found out during last season’s Milk Cup, when McArdle’s strength allowed him to set up Lafferty. Having been sent on loan to Rochdale last season where he made 20 appearances, he made his debut for his hometown club Sheffield Wednesday in the early part of this season. However, after just two substitute appearances he was on his way back to Spotland in early November. Alongside Jamie Ward of Torquay he is a rarity on the IFA database in that he is was born in England and yet has managed to find his way into our youth network. His talent and success would suggest that Roy Millar could do little worse than look south at the FAI?s successful scouting system in unearthing talent with Irish connections.
Verdict: If Wednesday can achieve promotion then don’t expect to see McArdle hanging around Hillsborough for too long. His eagerness for first team football is noted, but he should be capable at a higher standard than League Two, and competing with Grant McCann, Gareth McAuley and Jeff Hughes for a squad place.
Paddy McLaughlin
Perhaps not the most talked about of Kenny Shiels under-17 team with full back Ryan O’Neill (West Ham) and skipper Ryan McGivern (Man City) being hailed as the bright stars of this team, McLaughlin has every chance of following his team mates across the Irish Sea. A year younger than most in the under-17 team that won their mini-tournament in October, McLaughlin shone like a beacon in the centre of midfield with fair challenges which focused on winning possession rather than bringing down the player, followed by crisp passing. His energy was evident in protecting a back four which didn’t concede in any of the three matches, as well as offering another option in attack. With a pedigree background at Greenisland, McLaughlin will surely be hoping for a move in the summer to the mainland, and judging by his performances in a green shirt, he has every chance
Verdict: Too early to say if he will be a future international star, but this is exactly the type of player that the under-21 set up will benefit in a few years time. The hope is that he won’t follow Michael O’Connor and Tony Kane in opting to play for the Republic in a few years time, as it seems anyone with a Gaelic sounding name can expect an approach. If it were to happen, it would be Northern Ireland’s loss
With such an influx of young players breaking into the senior team in 2006, these lads will find it more difficult in the coming year to make the step up, especially in the middle of a qualifying campaign. One thing is for sure? The future’s bright, its Green and White.