Sport

Stars of future seek school success for Mal's and La Salle

Rival captains Niall McParland (De La Salle College) and Bobby Burns (St Malachy’s) ahead of Thursday’s Senior Cup final in Lisburn 
Keith Bailie

Danske Bank Senior Cup final: St Malachy’s College v De La Salle (Thursday, Ballyskeagh, 11am)

ST MALACHY’S College’s coach Tommy O’Neill believes schoolboy soccer still has a vital role to play in player development. 

St Malachy’s face De La Salle in this morning’s (11am) Danske Bank Senior Cup final at New Grosvenor in Ballyskeagh. Over the years, numerous Northern Ireland internationals and Irish League stars have got their first taste of playing in front of crowds in the traditional St Patrick’s Day Senior Cup final.

But in 2016, young stars could find themselves not only playing for their schools but also for their clubs in the National League, their counties in the Milk Cup and at national level, with the IFA’s development programme Club NI tutoring Northern Ireland’s best young players at regional centres of excellent.

Despite the crowded schedule, coach O’Neill believe the Senior Cup still has an important place within youth football: “It’s a big day for the players. They have been looking forward to it ever since the semi-finals,” said O’Neill.

“It means the world to the boys to play in front of a big crowd and TV cameras on an Irish League ground. It’s an experience that will stand them in good stead for the future. Of course, it is a difficult balancing act for these lads to combine their school work with their football.

“It’s their GCSE year, so they have got a lot of studying to do, which is obviously the school’s priority. Many of them are also on the books of Irish League clubs as well as playing for representative teams, so there is a lot of pressure on their time.

“It’s a difficult year for the boys but hopefully, they will learn a lot from it. I think school football still has a major role to play in football development and personal development. Playing for your school still means a lot to our pupils. The lads see each other every day and they’ve played together on the same team for five years.”

As for the final itself, eight-time winners De La Salle will start as marginal favourites. The Andersonstown Road school registered 14 goals on their way to the final while the Antrim Road side netted 10 times.

Despite De La Salle’s impressive record in the competition, St Malachy’s coach O’Neill believes his boys have a real chance of claiming the trophy for the first time since 1994: “The boys looked fit and raring to go in their final training session.

“We have a lot of respect for De La Salle as they have a great tradition in this competition and we are aware they’ve many good players, but I know our boys are capable of winning the cup.”

The game will go to extra-time and penalties in the event of a draw in normal-time.

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