County Down’s Dale Farm Milk Cup hopefuls have arrived on the north coast inspired by a visit from former Northern Ireland international Keith Gillespie.
Double Milk Cup winner Gillespie dropped in on the County kids in training at their Crossgar base before they headed for the 33rd international youth tournament which was opened by former Celtic and Blackburn striker Chris Sutton in Coleraine last night.
Gillespie won the Junior event with Dungannon Swifts in 1989 and lifted the Premier title in the famous Manchester United side of 1991.
“It is great to see the excitement among the young players preparing for the competition,” says the ex-United and Newcastle United winger who was capped 86 times for his country.
“It took me back to my early days and the great memories I have of competing at one of the most prestigious youth tournaments anywhere in the world,” he says.
Bangor man Gillespie admits he is surprised his former Old Trafford club is not represented this year for the first time in 25 years.
“Sir Alex Ferguson was such a supporter of the competition over the years and when you look at how many great players cut their teeth at the Milk Cup you can understand why.
“I was only at the club a week when we came back home to play. Our coaches were World Cup winner Nobby Stiles and European Cup winner Brian Kidd. We listened to everything they told us.”
Gillespie is encouraging the County Down lads to do the same: “Sometimes at that age you think you know more than you do so it is important to listen and learn. The advice they are impacting is so important.”
Gillespie also told the players to always believe in their own ability.
“You are in the squad because you are good enough and that should be you’re inspiration even when things aren’t going well for you as sometimes happens.”
Keith’s visit to the training camp saw him pass on words of advice to this year’s crop of hopefuls and he even joined in training with Davy Bryson’s Junior players!
County Down kick off their Junior challenge with a game against former winners Brentford at Clough on Monday. They face Donegal Schoolboys on Tuesday and California side Strikers on Wednesday.
“It’s tough asking players to lift themselves every day for five days but that’s the nature of the event,” says Keith. “It all passes so quickly and the lads should live every minute of it.”