Portadown’s position as a leading area for grassroots development was enhanced with double delight at the Northern Ireland seven-a-side finals.
The decision by members of the Mid-Ulster Schools’ Football Association to embrace the revamped blueprint for youth development received reward on two fronts in Cookstown as pupils from Orchard County and Edenderry picked up national prizes.
Orchard County defeated Lowood, Cookstown’s St Joseph’s and Harryville across the group stages, plus finished level against Olderfleet. A late equaliser against Olderfleet secured top spot in the group for the Annaghmore-based pupils.
Single-goal wins then arrived in the last-four and final against, respectively, St Ninnidh’s of Enniskillen and St Joseph’s.
Joel Willis made his mark in the final four seconds of extra-time with a title-winning finish off Darren Robinson’s pass.
Orchard County can now boast two NI Cup triumphs inside four years.
“I jumped about six feet in the air when Joel found the net late on,” said Orchard County’s Stephen Blevins. “Just as we were enjoying our celebrations, news filtered through that our friends from Edenderry had also won the cup so we raced over to enjoy their presentation.
“It’s a day none of us will ever forget and what a day for Portadown and the Mid-Ulster Schools’ Football Association.
“I have coached the MUSFA primary regional squad together with Peter Mullan from Edenderry and we both encourage the boys to play the game with the ball on the ground and a smile on their faces.
“We’re both fully-focused on the development of players rather than teams but it’s still a joy to witness them gel to maximum effect against the best squads in the country.
“Both schools are also superbly supported by positive and enthusiastic parents, all of whom were as excited as the boys.”