IN the end, they were agonisingly close to completing a Foyle Cup fairytale...

When Ballymena United’s under-19 squad set off for the north west last week, few people, either inside or outside the panel of players and coaches could have predicted the impact the Braid boys would make on the prestigious youth football tournament.

Entering the competition was new ground for Ballymena and with some top cross-channel clubs in the line-up, as well as club sides from north and south of the Irish border, it was never destined to be an easy task.

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But after two wins and a draw from their three group games, Clifford Adams’ side progressed to the semi-finals where they dumped hometown favourites Derry Cty out of the competition 1-0 before losing to Scottish Premier League side Hibernian – whose squad was comprised entirely of young full-time professionals – by the same score.

Ballymena had assembled a young squad of players who had come through the ranks of both the Showgrounds club’s Youth Academy and Carniny Youth FC – further proof of the positive steps of linking the two clubs under the Ballymena United umbrella after under-15 level, with a view to producing the best young talent from the Ballymena area with a view to developing them to play at senior level.

“The boys can hold their heads high after what was a superb tournament all round,” said Cliffy.

“Seven of our 18 man squad were 16 years of age and one of them 15 years old they really all stepped up to the mark.

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“They all can be proud in the knowledge they did the club, town and Irish league proud.

“A lot of the lads had a tough year with the reserves playing teams week in week out with thre, four, five years on them age-wise and this was a nice reward for them. You can actually see where playing up last year helped the younger lads as they were able to deal with the more physical sides in this tournament.

“We were all extremely disappointed on missing out on the silverware and that just goes to show the belief that the players have in themselves to be so disappointed against a full time professional team says something about these young players.

“We tried to drill it into them how much it would mean to the club and the town and their families with them getting to the final and we couldn’t have ask for any more commitment or effort.

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“There’s a bit of a buzz going about the club at the minute with the seniors winning the four team tournament in Dublin last week and now the youth players getting to the final of the Foyle cup.

“The future really does look bright and with so much local talent in the club it’s absolutely fantastic.

“Hopefully this wee run we had to the final will help Davy Dorian when he’s trying to recruit some new youth players. Myself and John Heron wish him all the very best with the reserves.

“Everyone at the club is extremely proud of the lads on their achievement as this, along with the Milk Cup is one of the top competitions in Europe.

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“It shows that at the club there is so much local talent. Of the 18 players their 16 of them are local and the other two from Belfast so the future’s bright,” added Clifford.

And while the Ballymena players thoroughly enjoyed the Foyle Cup, the feeling among tournament officials was very much mutual, with competition organiser Michael Hutton saying: “It was our pleasure to have Ballymena Utd FC in the Foyle Cup and they certainly added immensely to the competition.

“Going by their performance in the Final against Hibernian FC, the future of Ballymena Utd FC is certainly secure, for the huge crowd at Ardmore were certainly well entertained and Ballymena were a match for the Scottish Premier League club.

“The Foyle Cup committee look forward to welcoming the club back for our City of Culture 2013 event,” added Mr Hutton.

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