THE name of Clounagh Junior High School was added to the list of Northern Ireland champions on Wednesday as the under 12s enjoyed a landmark victory in Ballymena.
A 2-1 success over Boys’ Model in the Northern Ireland Minor Cup showpiece provided the class of 2012 with a spot in the school history books on two fronts.
The Raymond Hill-coached players not only secured a first Northern Ireland reward in Clounagh colours but also finished the season with wins in every single fixture across three competitions.
As a result, the players can boast Mid-Ulster glory in league and shield competitions on top of this week’s national achievement.
“It was something special but only down to the hard work put in by the boys,” said Hill. “We certainly deserved the win, especially based on our first half.
“Before the game my message was to just go out and make sure they could not come off the pitch with any regrets.
“They responded by producing an excellent performance and scoring two first-half goals thanks to Ryan Whyte and James McCann.
“We played well also across the second half but, in the end, had Tyler Blair to thank for two fantastic saves late on at 2-1.
“We probably should have been clear by a greater margin but also had to count on the goalkeeper towards the end.
“They put everything into the match and can now sit back as Northern Ireland champions having won every competitive game.
“I have stated in the past how the players’ progress is down not only to the efforts of those connected to Clounagh but of the parents and club coaching staff putting so much time in away from the school.
“The fact that teams from within the Mid-Ulster Schools’ Football Association dominated the latter stages of the Northern Ireland competition tells a tale of our strength in the area.
“The match was played in a true sporting atmosphere, without a single booking in the final.
“The players have bonded really well as a group and the heart of the success is that pure love for football.
“In fact, many had club commitments over the weekend and even the same night of our final win.
“They play and train with such enjoyment and that enthusiasm has been a big part of our success.”
Text messages sent in to the Portadown Times office following the final whistle acknowledged the ‘fantastic achievement by Clounagh’ and suggested ‘future Shamrock Park stars’ in reference to the town’s Irish League club.
The Clounagh boys returned to school on Wednesday afternoon with staff and pupils offering a warm welcome.
“Quite a few people stayed behind after school to cheer the boys back and a banner was prepared offering congratulations, plus music was playing.
“Those extra aspects are all part of the occasion for the boys and help add to the memories.
“Even the organisation of the finals was superb, with Michael O’Neill down as Northern Ireland manager and fruit and water in the dressing room before the game.
“Plenty of parents made the trip and those details all combined to provide the players with some wonderful times.
“Clounagh’s only other Northern Ireland final appearance was a defeat in 1998 so it is nice to be part of the school history now in such a positive way.”
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