Donegal Schoolboys were the talk of the Foyle Cup at the weekend as the Under 12s and 13s were overall tournament winners while there were also runners up finishes for the Under 14s and 16s.
The local underage footballers impressed over the entire week in the festival of football where there were over 700 games with more than 3000 goals.
Finals day on Saturday was dominated by Donegal Schoolboys who made all four finals, making this their most successful tournament ever.
First up were the Under 13s at Ardmore and after a frantic opening to the game a whipping corner off the boot of Mark Walsh caused havoc in the Sheffield United box, so much so that the ball was turned into the net via their own defender. Donegal took control for most of the game, their defence holding firm in the face of rare United attacks, and their attacking set up constantly opening chances. Conor O'Reilly came closest first in the second period when he cut inside and dragged an effort wide off his left and Mark Walsh worked the keeper again with an effort from range. United really should've equalised though late in the game when Reiss Harrison squared for Ben Harriott but the big centre forward volleyed wide with the goal at his mercy and Donegal held out for a deserved win.
Action then moved to the Brandywell and the Under 14 final and although the weather had dulled a little, the spirits remained high at the Brandywell as there was plenty of great football on the cards at the home of Derry City. Here Donegal faced a Glentoran side that were impressive in the group stages having conceded no goals and went on to defeat locals Maiden City Academy in the semi-final. From early on it was clear to see why these two teams had made the final as there was some great passing and moving by both sides. Glentoran were edging the possession of the ball but there was an obvious threat from Donegal as they looked pacey and dangerous on the break. It was the Glens though that got the opener in the final, all be it from a seemingly inconspicuous position. Lorenzo Dawkins had an ambitious strike from distance but the ball skidded off Eoin O’Boyle’s gloves and Josh Tipping was there to poke the ball home and put the Belfast lads 1-0 up. The rain continued to fall and Glentoran didn’t cease with their attacks either. The boys in all black had a lot of the ball in Donegal’s half and the Schoolboys didn’t threaten before the break.
When the game got back underway, the flow changed as Donegal needed to push on to try and get an equaliser. After sustained pressure, they eventually got an opening but Matthew Anderson pulled off a wonder save to match Joe McGill’s vicious strike from inside the Glentoran box. There was a clear tension in the air as the game approached the final ten minutes and Donegal began to push even further forward in search of the decisive equalising strike. James Carolan tried to get on the end of anything he could for the Schoolboys but after being played through it was Ryan Cunningham who could only draw a superb double save from the impressive Anderson at close range. Ben Redpath came on in the later stages for the Glens and the number seven made a difference to hold the ball up and the 1-0 lead proved to be enough in the end as they held on to take the U14 title home to Belfast.
The third final of the day and the 1.15 kick-off saw the U12’s take to the pitch with Cavan/Monaghan Youth League taking on Donegal Schoolboys to battle it out for the cup. Both young teams had great support as the atmosphere inside the Brandywell was electric at kick-off. It remained goalless in the first fifteen with the two teams getting to know each other and defenders coming out on top in most battles. With so much at stake, both sides were keeping things tight and it was a cagey affair for a lot of the first half. Donegal were the closer of the two sides in terms of chances as they hit the woodwork twice in quick succession. Stephen Black and Carlos O Reily rattled the crossbar from distance on twenty and twenty three minutes but the Youth League held on and the score remained 0-0 at the break. Referee Noel O’Donnell must also get a mention as the official took charge of his last game in a great career, his time spanning an amazing twenty three Foyle Cups.
The second half got underway as the weather cleared up a little. Spaces started to open up as the sun came out and the crowd saw a few more chances with the players tiring on a big pitch. Oisin Mc Entee was played through for the Cavan/Monaghan blues but a last ditch sliding challenge was enough to put the ball out for a corner. This seemed to lift Donegal’s game all over the park and after almost constant pressure the opener came for the Schoolboys. Donal McBride came up from the back for a free kick and made no mistake with his finish as the ball fell to him after a scramble in the box. This spurred them on further and the second goal soon followed, Gerard Duffy was on the edge of the box to finish well after the ball broke from a Youth League clearance. The midfielder almost tied up the game minutes later too with a wonder volley that struck the bar. After this it was very comfortable for Donegal, the Schoolboys running out deserved Foyle Cup U12 champions with a 2-0 victory at the final whistle.
The fourth final of the day took place at the Brandywell Stadium in the U16 section at 2.30. Donegal Schoolboys to face Cliftonville as they had a team in all Saturday’s finals but this was the big one, taking on the renowned Irish League team. The game was tight in the opening stages and there was little goalmouth action. Ciaran Seacroft seemed to be the only bright spark for Cliftonville and after being involved down the left he won a corner which led to a Donegal mistake and Martin O Lali was there to take advantage, the number nineteen breaking into the box and smashing his team 1-0 in front. Donegal struggled to gain possession in the final third and the reds were probably worth their one goal lead, defending well in numbers and attacking their opponents in behind. It was clear to see how hard the Cliftonville boys were working, chasing down off the ball from one to eleven and not giving the Schoolboys any time to think. It was all still to play for at the break though with the score remaining 1-0 to the Reds and an interesting second period in prospect.
Donegal made a few changes early in the second half and tried to change their approach to attack the reds with pace down the flanks but the Irish League boys remained in control and pushed on to try and seal the win with a second that would surely see them crowned champions. This was indeed the case with just eight minutes remaining when Jack McLaughin followed up a parried shot by Donegal’s Anthony O’Hagan to have the simplest of finishes and the number ten was then pounced on by his reds teammates as they reeled off in celebration of the decisive strike. McLaughlin was lively in the closing stages too as he had another couple of strikes that weren’t too far away from adding to the Cliftonville total. In the end the two goals were enough to see it through though as the Belfast boys were rewarded for their hard work and became the second team of the day from the capital to be crowned Foyle Cup victors.
Under 12 Cup
Final - Donegal Schoolboys 2 Cavan Monaghan
Under 13 Cup
FInal - Donegal Schoolboys 1 Sheffield United 0
Under 14 Cup
Final - Donegal Schoolboys 0 Glentoran
Under 16 Cup
Final - Donegal Schoolboys 0 Cliftonville 2
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