County Armagh chairman Dean McCullough has delivered a passionate defence of the SuperCupNI tournament following growing frustration at criticism aimed towards the summer showcase.
The former Irish League player is now within his sixth year as head of County Armagh’s Milk Cup and SuperCupNI association - having previously been involved as a parent to two boys.
McCullough highlights increased competition and commitments as key factors in a process of player recruitment proving increasingly difficult.
“We are going up against so many outside aspects demanding focus and over the last number of years we face more and more often a feeling or feedback the competition is somehow diminished,” said McCullough. “I’ve watched it as a parent to my sons, Scott and Luke, along with my responsibilities as chairman of the association and I just do not understand that viewpoint and am especially frustrated at how it seems to become more and more accepted with each passing year.
“It is not a case of the actual players showing less interest, you only have to look at the enthusiasm and dedication on display across the whole timeframe of months of trials, friendly games and training sessions before we even kick a ball or set foot at the actual tournament.
“Then the experiences from the actual week prove so positive on so many fronts time and time again from what I’ve seen first-hand.
“It is a disappointment shared when I talk to other county set-ups and teams and we hear about players having to miss out due to club or other commitments.”
County Armagh players across the Junior and Premier sections this week have group fixtures confirmed against sides representing Rangers and Valencia within a global roster of talent.
“People tell me the standard has reduced but I look around and see big clubs still in the draw and you take some of the most successful squads in recent seasons, for example Right To Dream, who may not be household names but bring so much ability to the competition.
“I refuse to believe the SuperCupNI week is still not a major attraction for professional scouts and know personally so many who have confirmed appearances.
“Players continue to progress in the game coming out of the SuperCupNI and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford took part not so long ago plus Billy Gilmour was handed a first-team debut at Chelsea only this month.
“You look at the results across the board and there is rarely a wide gap between teams, so that shows the level of competition on offer and, outside of the interest from professional scouts, so many players go on to have careers in the game at different levels.
“In recent tournaments alone we’ve had County Armagh players like Caolan Marron, Lorcan Forde, Ross Larkin and Aaron Duke move on into the Irish League.”
McCullough maintains the tournament spotlight remains strong but views the benefits far beyond the football pitch.
“I strongly believe the experience of a SuperCupNI tournament, from trials and training to games in front big crowds and spending the week in that intense environment, can play a massive role in helping prepare the young lads for the future,” he said. “It helps cultivate team spirit and that ability to bond, along with personal responsibility and self-confidence.
“We place a lot of emphasis on the importance of the mental preparation as well as the physical given it’s five days of five games in front of some massive crowds and against some big names and full-time opposition, so there is support to help deal with that pressure in a protective environment.
“Ultimately, I’ve seen it provide so much to boys across so many years, with rewards that continue far down the line in so many ways thanks to the SuperCupNI experience.”