COUNTY Down reinforced their position as the top county at the 2009 Milk Cup in Coleraine.
A series of quality performances ensured that Down made history by becoming the first-ever county to make it into the Milk Cup quarter-finals in both age groups in the same year.
The Junior team finished sixth overall and picked up the award for the most successful Irish team. The Premier side that outshone the other five counties was put out of the main competition by beaten finalists Sheffield United and finished a credible eighth.
County Down Junior team opened the tournament in a confident mood by beating Spartak Moscow 2-0 at the Riada Stadium in Ballymoney on Monday. County Down opened the scoring after the break. Shay McCartan laid the ball off for midfielder Luke Conlan to bury the ball home with his unfavoured right foot from 18 yards.
Down doubled their lead with nine minutes left. Stephen Cockcroft sent in a tantalising cross for substitute Aaron Sills to score from close range.
The following day, Down progressed into the Northern Ireland Milk Cup quarter-finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over the North Dublin Schoolboy League at Parker Avenue in Portrush.
Cockcroft set up Shay McCartan for the opener after 16 minutes. McCartan collected the ball with a sublime first touch before burying the ball past the Dublin keeper.
Substitute Andrew Mitchell wrapped the game up with 12 minutes remaining. Luke Conlan drove forward and after losing control, the loose ball fell to Mitchell who rifled into the roof of the net.
On day three, County Down lost 3-1 to Club Pachuca - arguably one of the most gifted teams to grace the Junior section of the tournament in recent years. Thomas Healey brought the local lads level with a header from Cockcroft's corner on the stroke of half-time.
The South American's upped the ante in the second half and Julio Gomez and Marco Bueno goals took the game out of County Down's reach.
A Stuart Muldrew brace helped County Down’s Juniors beat Swindon 3-2 at the Warren in Portstewart on Thursday afternoon. The local lads almost let a three goal lead slip from their grasp, but managed to hold on for victory.
Aaron Sills got on the end of a Shay McCartan cross to open the scoring after just two minutes.
Sills provided the assist for the second goal which came four minutes after the restart. Luke Conlan nodded down and Sills’ mishit shot fell perfectly for Muldrew to tap home.
With six minutes of the match remaining Muldrew struck for a second time. County Down conceded two goals in the last three minutes but clung on for the win.
On Friday, a tired County Down side had to settle for sixth place in the Milk Cup after losing 2-0 to Chelsea at the Riada Stadium in Ballymoney. George Bowerman scored a goal in each half to give Premiership giants Chelsea a comfortable win.
Despite the defeat to Chelsea, the Junior team landed the award for the most successful Irish team at the Milk Cup. Shay McCartan was named County Down's player of the tournament. Aaron Sills and Stuart Muldrew shared the top-scorer award.
It was a tremendous effort by the local boys. Here’s hoping we see and hear lots more from the 18 players who did County Down proud.
Junior squad: Conor Brennan, Killyleagh; Carter Dawson, Belfast; Philip Egerton, Belfast; Thomas Healey, Downpatrick; Stephen McCullough, Belfast; Joe McKinney, Crossgar; John Nelson, Dundonald; Mark Armstrong, Cloughey; Stephen Cockcroft, Bangor; Luke Conlan, Portaferry; Ryan Craig, Belfast; Timmy Lai, Belfast; Liam McGarry, Banbridge; David Morgan, Killyleagh; Shay McCartan, Newry; Andrew Mitchell, Waringstown; Stuart Muldrew, Killinchy; Aaron Sills, Belfast.