Celtic and Manchester United U19s to launch 2018 SuperCupNI
FERMANAGH man Kieran McKenna will bring his Manchester United youngsters to face Celtic in a showpiece curtain-raiser to this summer's SuperCupNI in Coleraine.
The challenge game at U19 level is expected to be a sell-out at the Showgrounds at 5pm on Saturday July 21 ahead of the week-long international youth tournament, which features three competitions this year.
United made a winning return to the event last July when they defeated a Northern Ireland select 1-0 in a special challenge match at Ballycastle Road. Nishan Burkat's goal landed the silverware for tournament graduate McKenna's side.
It marked a successful re-appearance after two years away from a competition which has seen United teams reach 13 finals and win six titles in its 35-year history.
Now Enniskillen native McKenna, who was appointed head of United's U18s two years ago, is happy to be returning to his homeland with another crop of potential Old Trafford stars of the future to defend their title.
The Fermanagh man captained Northern Ireland in the former Milk Cup Elite competition back in 2005 and played for his county in the Junior tournament four years earlier.
Celtic made their only appearance in 2016 when they contested a four-team U21 competition, reaching the final after a 3-1 success against Real Sociedad but ultimately losing out to Everton 1-0 in the final.
"We are honoured that both clubs have been hugely enthusiastic about the game," said tournament chairman Victor Leonard.
"We are fortunate to have established strong links with both clubs over the years."
One of the SuperCupNI's founders was Coleraine-born ex-Celtic captain Bertie Peacock, who was responsible for attracting Manchester United teams to the competition in the early years through his friendship with Alex Ferguson.
"Celtic were extremely helpful to us when we were exploring ways to honour Bertie's invaluable input into the competition following his death in 2004," added Victor.
The Northern Ireland v Manchester United game last year attracted a large crowd to Ballycastle Road and tournament organisers are expecting an excellent response to this year's curtain-raiser for what promises to be another week of fantastic football.
SuperCupNI 2018 continues with the traditional parade of teams through Coleraine town centre to the Showgrounds for a welcome ceremony on Sunday July 22.