MILK CUP (ELITE): Northern Irleand’s Stephen Craigan looking at the bigger picture

N.Ireland's Sean Mullan celebrates scoring against China on Monday
N.Ireland's Sean Mullan celebrates scoring against China on Monday

Northern Ireland Elite manager Stephen Craigan wants to win this year’s Dale Farm Milk Cup, but concedes it’s not his ultimate goal.

Craigan believes the Milk Cup Elite section is perfection preparation for September’s European Championships Qualifiers.

On Monday Northern Ireland beat China 2-0 at the Ballymena Showgrounds, while they face Mexico at the Coleraine Showgrounds (8pm) on Wednesday night.

Craigan said: “Results are important because it gives players belief in themselves and belief in what they’re doing. Obviously we would like to win the Milk Cup but it’s really all about preparing the players for the European Championships. We’ve got Russia and Czech Republic in our group, so we know it’s going to be difficult.

“This tournament is about laying the foundations for the next two years and beyond. Obviously winning games is nice but it’s really about improving the boys for the future. That’s the key goal.

“We’ve worked on a lot of things and you could see that come to fruition against China.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s game in Coleraine, the Elite squad will watch footage of their win over China.

Craigan explained: “It’s a quick turn around at the Milk Cup but we make sure we do things in the right manner. We’ve got a strength and conditioning coach in Gary McIlwaine who works with the players and he has already made a huge difference.

“Our boys eat well, have access to a pool and have recovery sessions in the pool. This is a professional set-up and the boys are treated like full internationals.

“Myself, Stephen Robinson, Jim Magilton and David Healy are all involved in our set-up and we’re all passing on our experiences.”

Elsewhere, China play Canada at the Brandywell (1.30pm). Canada beat Mexico 2-0 in Monday’s match in Ballymoney.