26 Nov Frustrated SFAI Holders Hail Champions Cup
ST FRANCIS Under-14 manager Mark Connolly insists his side are raring to retain their DB Sports Champions Cup title – even if they can’t defend their SFAI crown.
Connolly’s side won last year’s SFAI Under-13 Cup final – beating league rivals St Joseph’s Boys on a penalty-shootout at Home Farm FC – and have been waiting with anticipation to find out their national faith this year.
With domestic action wrapped now until the third week in January the DB Sports Champions Cup will assume all the focus for the DDSL’s elite sides over the Christmas period.
The competition, which debuted its five-final format last season, pits the SFAI Cup winners (Under-12 to Under-16) against their northern counterparts in a one-off contest to decide the best team on the island at each age group.
Last year’s entertaining day of action at Oriel Park saw all five DDSL clubs representing the SFAI win their respective ties.
That trend continued in June, with Francis building on their Champions Cup win at Under-13 level – they stood in for 2012 national winners Crumlin United – to claim SFAI glory amongst another clean sweep for DDSL clubs.
Unlike fellow southern champions Malahide United (Under-13), St Kevin’s Boys (Under-15), Cherry Orchard (Under-16) and Belvedere (Under-17), Francis will be the only defending Champions Cup holders competing on Saturday December 28.
Connolly, who brought the side all the way up from Under-7s believes the Champions Cup is an important competition – even for elite DDSL sides packed full of player on the radar of English clubs.
“We obviously stood in for Crumlin last year and defiantly winning a big game like that kicked us on towards our eventual SFAI Cup glory,” insists the Francis boss.
“It is a brilliant competition, a great concept and when each team gets up to Oriel Park on the day they realize there is a proper cup final feel to it and it is a game you have to win.
“My players are very proud to have won the Champions Cup last year, and especially after being invited back on merit after winning the SFAI Cup, we really want to defend the title.”
Connolly and his players have waited with anticipation, like most teams in the DDSL, in recent weeks to discover if a solution to the SFAI Cup dispute could be found.
He admits his patience with the whole affair has been stretched and believes there is no choice – every player deserves the right to play in a national competition.
“Everyone knows where I stand on the SFAI Cup, I want my team to play in it and so do every manager I know,” said Connolly.
“Whether or not it happens this season – and who knows in that case if my players will ever play in a national competition like it again the way things are going – it makes it even more important to enjoy our Champions Cup experience than.
“Big games against different opposition, like you get in the Champions Cup and from away days in the SFAI Cup are essential to the development of young ambitious players and I hope something can be sorted.”