“It’s a good opportunity for players to show what they can do”

Dundalk v Bohemians - SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Scottish Challenge Cup
Saturday September 7, Excelsior Stadium, 1pm

The involvement of Irish clubs in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Scottish Challenge Cup has come in for much criticism and derision.

Even the name of it seems to invite a sneer.

But for Robbie McCourt, the competition formerly known as the IRN-BRU Cup, already holds fond memories and represents an opportunity for him and many like him to stake their claim for first-team football.

Glasnevin man McCourt, a product of Bohs’ partners St Kevin’s Boys, returned home last summer after three years with West Brom.

And it was in this competition that McCourt made his first-team debut in a 1-0 win away to Peterhead this time 12 months ago.[t0ggle title="READ MORE"]

Ali Reghba, who signed for Premier League Leicester City in July, did likewise.

McCourt, 21, said: “I played 80 minutes and I enjoyed it. Ali made his debut in that game too and look at him now.”

Both were then thrust into league action a fortnight later in a Dublin derby against St Pat’s. McCourt bagged one and Reghba netted twice in a 3-1 win in Richmond Park.

McCourt said: “Yeah that was a good game, an enjoyable one for me and for Ali getting the goals. That’s where I kind of announced myself as a Bohs player and I want to be able to do that again.”

Players of similar inexperience could find themselves sampling first-team football for the first time tomorrow with the carrot of further opportunities dangling in front of them.

With bigger priorities ahead, several regular starters have been left at home.

Instead, this tournament is being used as a chance to give those on the fringes of the first team some game-time and to expose some of the U19s to first-team football.

Six of Craig Sexton’s current U19 squad – Seán Bohan, Mitchell Byrne, Alex Kelly, Ross Tierney, Brandon Bermingham and Dawson Devoy – are included in the travelling party who made the journey today from Dublin to Belfast to get a ferry to Cairnryan and coach onwards to Motherwell where they will stay overnight tonight.

McCourt said: “It’s a good opportunity for players to get a chance to show what they can do, to make a name for themselves. The lads coming up from the U19s tomorrow and who might get an opportunity know it’s a chance to play themselves into the reckoning.

“Everyone in the group want to win this competition. It’s something different but I think it’s a good tournament. There’s some good teams in it and we’re coming up against opposition we wouldn’t otherwise.”

While McCourt is a fan of the tournament, not everyone is so keen.

Scottish clubs and media alike have questioned the merit – and expense – in inviting League of Ireland, Irish League, Welsh League and English Conference teams to compete in it.

Last season Bohs were the first League of Ireland club to win a tie in the tournament and went one further to reach the quarter-finals by beating English side Sutton United in a dramatic penalty shootout.

The fact that the quarter-final tie was scheduled to take place after the League of Ireland season had finished invited further scrutiny as to the benefit of Irish clubs’ involvement.

Bohs’ offer to extend their season to accommodate the last-eight tie against East Fife being played in November was ignored by many of the detractors in the Scottish media, however.

The Gypsies instead agreed to a date in February, despite it being in pre-season and thus weakening their chances of progression. But much to the dismay of supporters who travelled over from Scotland, the tie was called off due to a frozen pitch minutes before it was due to kick off.

Running out of available dates to fulfill the tie and with the League of Ireland kicking off a week later, the decision was made to withdraw from that season’s tournament.

None of that has served to endear Irish clubs’ involvement to a skeptical Scottish football family.

In Ireland, similar doubts exist.

The fact the FAI Cup quarter-finals are scheduled the same week as when Irish clubs are supposed to compete in the Scottish Challenge Cup is a source of much frustration.

Many argue – convincingly – that Irish clubs’ participation in the Scottish Challenge Cup taking precedence over the last-eight of the FAI Cup is an insult to the country’s premier cup competition.

It is particularly frustrating considering the same scheduling clash occurred last season. Once was perhaps understandable, but for it to happen a second time is hard to fathom.

Ultimately international call-ups to Derry City players last season meant that FAI Cup tie would not proceed on the scheduled date anyway.

Similarly, Ireland U21 call-ups for Danny Mandroiu and Darragh Leahy this time around mean Bohs’ FAI Cup quarter-final against Crumlin United would not have proceeded this weekend either.

But if Irish clubs are to continue in this tournament, the scheduling of the FAI Cup ought to be addressed and given the respect it deserves.

None of those concerns will come into the players’ thinking when they line out tomorrow. It is a chance to play their way into Keith Long’s first-team plans.

McCourt added: “I haven’t played much but when I do play, I like to give my all for the team. It’s a chance to show what we can do. Hopefully I can get in and play as many game as I can.

“We’ve important games coming up in the league and cup between now and the end of the season and you want to play in those.

“Obviously it can be frustrating not playing but the lads who have been there have playing very well. The likes of Keith Buckley and Conor Levingston, they have a good partnership so it’s been hard for me and the likes of Scotty Allardice to get in.

“When we have got in, I think we’ve played well but with such good midfielders it’s a difficult task to stay in the team.

“But the best thing about this group is that everyone pushes each other. In training we’re all on to each other the whole time as we all want the best for the team.

“That’s why we’ve done well so far this season and we want to continue that and push ourselves even further.”[/toggle]

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