FOR CLUB AND COUNTY

The combined County Londonderry squads.
The combined County Londonderry squads.

TWO of the most recent additions to Oran Kearney’s backroom team at the Coleraine Showgrounds will be taking time out from their club duties this week as they aim to guide the County Londonderry sides to success in the Milk Cup.

Respectively, Ollie Mullan and Pat McFadden have worked with the county’s Junior and Premier sides in the competition for several years but now combine this with looking after the Colts and Reserves sides at Coleraine and it is hoped that their experience with the county teams can help attract the cream of up-and-coming local talent to Ballycastle Road.

Former Coleraine player Mullan, who was appointed as Colts manager by Kearney towards the end of last season, also brings top flight managerial experience to the role, having been in charge of Limavady United during the 2007/08 season. “Oran has been very proactive since he became Coleraine manager and has made it clear that he wants to strengthen every team at the club, from the first team down to the Academy,” Mullan told Times Sport. “I came in with three games left last season, which gave me the opportunity to have a look at players already at the club. A real priority for the Colts this season is to get back into the top division of the youth league and I think we definitely have the players to achieve that.

“I’ve brought in a few new players, while several players still eligible for the Colts panel have gained experience with the first team squad last season. Time will tell whether we’ve got enough about ourselves to be successful next season.”

In the meantime, Mullan is focused on his Junior side’s Milk Cup campaign, which kicks off this week with games against North Dublin Schools, Everton and AB Copenhagen. “Last summer we had a very successful tournament, reaching the final of the Slemish Trophy before losing on penalties to Aspire, taking the scalp of Everton along the way.

“This year as always, it is our ambition to reach the final stages of the main tournament. It is always difficult for the county sides because we don’t get as much time to prepare as the visiting sides, most of whom play together weekly throughout the season, whereas we only have three sessions a week in the ten weeks building up to the tournament.

“Despite this disadvantge, the county sides are improving all the time and I feel it’s only a matter of time before one goes really far in the main competition again. Hopefully, with a bit of luck it can be us this year.”

Like Mullan, Pat McFadden was not long into his new post at Coleraine until Milk Cup commitments called. The former manager of Londonderry-based side Oxford United Stars has also worked for several years in the IFA excellence programme and has seen several members of the current Coleraine first team squad progress through his Milk Cup Premier squad.

“Because of my commitment to the county team, I haven’t been able to take as large a role as I’d have wanted in pre-season so far,” McFadden said. “Oran knew I would be otherwise engaged with the Milk Cup at this time, but he was still very keen to get me on board and so was willing to work round my other commitments.

“Oran has built quite a large first team squad, so I would imagine a number of players from it will be playing for me at times during the season and I’ll be working closely with Ollie to see which players from his squad might be ready to make the step up from youth level. I’m also hoping to attract a couple of new players to the club from the Londonderry area to the club before the start of the season.

“Ultimately, my main aim is to develop players to move on into the first team and if I can help two or three lads make the step up every season, I feel I’d be doing a good job.”

McFadden also has his sights set on a successful week at the Milk Cup for his team in the Premier section.

“If we are in a final on Friday we’ll have reason to be happy with our week’s work,” he continued. “We start off with a few tough fixtures, firstly a derby against County Antrim on Monday, then we face South Coast Strikers on Tuesday, who going on past showings will be a very strong outfit. Then on Wednesday, we face Leonidas from the Netherlands, who we don’t know too much about as they were a late replacement, but we’ll have them watched in the first two days so we’re ready for them.

“The squad contains a few players who are making their Milk Cup debuts, as well as some who have experienced it before at Junior level and they’re all looking forward to the experience. If they can perform to the best of their ability, we should have a good week.”

STORY: Andrew Gillan