Celtic debut in new U-21 competition at SuperCupNI

Irish pair Fiacre Kelleher and goalkeeper Connor Hazard hope to be with the Celtic squad at the U-21 SuperCupNI.
Irish pair Fiacre Kelleher and goalkeeper Connor Hazard hope to be with the Celtic squad at the U-21 SuperCupNI.

Scottish giants Celtic will make their first ever appearance at the SuperCupNI this summer.

The Glasgow club will help launch a new Under-21 competition at the international tournament – formerly known as the Milk Cup - in July.

Chairman Victor Leonard said: “Celtic have been extremely positive about the idea since we first approached them.

“It is exciting for us to break new ground, not only with the inauguration of a new competition but also in welcoming a club of the calibre of Celtic to the event.

“We have enjoyed a healthy relationship in the past and their participation is also a fitting tribute to one of our tournament’s founders, Bertie Peacock, who was captain of Celtic during a highly successful era at Parkhead during the 1950s.”

“In the past we staged U-19 and U-20 Elite competitions for international sides but that has proved challenging in recent years.

“We wound up the international section last year while we continued to examine diversifying and the possibility of expanding beyond the already successful Junior and Premier competitions which feature club teams and county representatives from across Northern Ireland.”

Victor added: “Our feedback clearly indicated that clubs would welcome a competition allowing them to utilise players close to making the step up into senior football and that is an exciting prospect for supporters of the SuperCupNI.”

Tommy McIntyre, Development Squad Coach at Celtic, said: “We are delighted to participate in this year’s SuperCupNI.

“The event will be an integral part of our pre-season preparation and will prove to be an excellent test against top quality opposition, prior to defending our league title in Scotland.”

He added: “We look forward to having a big Celtic support at our matches and hopefully they will have the opportunity to see future first team players.

“Our squad will consist of a number of boys who have played at international level and who have experience playing against the cream of Europe at club level.”

Tommy feels that pre-season tournaments are vital in the preparation of the squad for the coming season and thinks that the level of competition at the SupercupNI will be tremendous preparation for the forthcoming season at home and in Europe.

Victor revealed that the organising committee has been looking at various options to bring a fresh new look to the event which has established a worldwide reputation for excellence since its inception in 1983.

“As we move the competition forward we have been exploring new avenues for expansion and there has been widespread support for a competition at U-21 level from many clubs.

The U-21 competition will also feature Real Sociedad. The Spanish La Liga club debuted at the Premier event last year on the recommendation of former manager David Moyes who has been hugely supportive of the event from his time as Everton boss.

“They enjoyed the experience last time and their coaches felt the competition gave players a wide and varied experience.”

Sociedad went through the first three days unbeaten but lost out to eventual winners County Antrim in the semi-final.

The new U-21 competition will kick off on the evening of Thursday, July 21, with two semi-finals. The two losers will feature in a 3rd/4th play-off at Ballymena Showgrounds on Saturday, July 23, followed by the final at the same venue on the same date.

The tournament draw will take place at W5 in the Odyssey complex, Belfast, next month. The event kicks off on Saturday, July 23, with the welcome parade of teams in Coleraine the following day.

SuperCupNI is supported by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Tourism NI, Mitre, BBC Sport NI and The Sun.