Sligo Leitrim to take on Leeds
The Sligo Leitrim Under 12 footballers will face the defending champions of the Sligo Super Cup, the DDSL, Leeds and Glenavon in this year's tournament.
The tournament takes place at The Showgrounds from April 26th until April 28th.
Derby County, Donegal, Mayo and Aberdeen make up the second group at the tournament.
The draw was broadcast live on Ocean FM, and it's fair to say that Sligo Leitrim players and management were pleased with how they fared.
Packie Lynch, Tournament Director, explained how it all started. "It started about three years ago with a meeting in the Clayton Hotel, the league were present,
"Sligo Rovers were present, John Russell was there and we sought the input of key stakeholders and people within the game. Niall Harrison was instrumental in it as well.
"We were kind of trying to future proof the game here in the north-west because there was kind of a move towards the Player Development Plan, we knew then that by 2019/2020 there would be an u13 national league so we decided to go for u12 elite tournament format at 9v9."
The tournament has come on leaps and bound since its inception, and Packie and his colleagues on the committee have no problem attracting top academies from within Ireland and across the Irish Sea.
"It took off from there, we were remarking earlier on that we started with a logo and that was it.
"No money, no budget and gradually piece by piece we used our contacts within the game and we were able to get Celtic early on and that gave us the confidence to go forward."
And why did the organisers decide on an U12 competition like this? "It provided a natural link for the regional game here, particularly in the north-west here, the regional centres here and that link to the u13 league.
"There was no-one else doing it in the country. The Kennedy Cup is u14 so we felt that there was an opportunity that wee could exploit.
"Growing up in Dublin playing for St. Joseph's we played at an almost elite level every day of the week. There's lots of talented footballers within the region but they don't necessarily get the chance to play at that level week in week out. It was all about the kids and giving them the chance to play at that level."
This year, half of the games will be streamed live which is a new initiative. Packie says that he tries to add something new every year.
"Every year we try something different. The format is the same but this year we're actually live-streaming eight out of the 16 games so it has that international reach. We have a couple of new teams coming in Aberdeen and Leeds. Leeds in particular is a big coup and there's a strong following in the north-west.
"I'd urge everyone to get out and support it because what really makes the tournament and what makes these teams want to come back again is the tournament experience. The tournament experience is all about people going to games."
John McAteer, Manager of the U12 side was pleased with the group his side has been drawn in.
"It's a great draw. Leeds United probably would have been the team we wanted to get.
"There's big support around Sligo for Leeds from years gone by. The DDSL is the best team in the country. Obviously coming to Sligo you want to be playing against these teams. It's a great occasion."
McAteer says the tournament is great for young players who want to progress to the Sligo Rovers underage system.
"It's great, it's a great experience for the lads. It's all about the kids. It's about them gaining experience and hopefully moving forward to the national league and then maybe progressing to the Sligo Rovers first team. That's your aim at the end of the day.
"They're a good group of lads, they're well grounded. They'll go out and play their game as best they can."
Manor Rangers' Jack Kelly is confident about Sligo Leitrim's chances.
"Ah yeah that's only a handy win for Sligo/Leitrim," he joked. "It's a great experience. We're all good friends but I suppose when it comes to club we're all enemies but when we meet up at training on a Sunday morning we're friends again."
Arrow Harps' Darragh McKeon is not daunted by the prospect of facing the defending champions DDSL. "Yeah we'll handle them though. The best thing is when we train on Sundays and Thursdays and we chat about the matches at the weekend and how we beat each other."
Calry Bohs' Calum Lynch says it will be a good experience for him and his team-mates. "It will be good to play all these academies coming over. It will be a good experience for us. They're good teams to play against."
Squad: Paul McAteer, Cillian O'Neill (Merville Utd); Max Farrell, Calum Lynch (Calry Bohs); Cian Nicholson, Conor Langan (Benbulben Rangers); Jack Kelly (Manor Rangers); James Lavin, Emmanuel Oyelalus, Calvin Hogge, Danny McCormack (Ballymote Celtic); Aaron Healy (Boyle Celtic); Darragh McKeon, Jack Brehony (Arrow Harps), Cathal Gilligan (Strand Celtic); Peter Moran (Carrick Town).