The team played in the under 16s competition which had 10 teams split into two groups. The Isle of Man side were in group B and their first fixture was against the Welsh Premier League champions TNS, Academy u16s. The Manx lads came out quickly pressing high up the pitch and caught TNS on the back foot with Jonny Quirk opening the scoring after 5 minutes with a superb through ball from Sid Batty. TNS equalised soon after with a great strike from distance moving wildly in the wind. From that moment on both sides sat a little deeper not wanting to concede and the game finished 1-1.
Next up in the group stages was Sale United. The Isle of Man side started well again and had a lot of possession, however Sale scored early on with a great bit of combination play putting their striker through 1 v 1 with the keeper and he slotted home. The Manx side recovered well and continued to control the game but came in at half time a goal down. Things fell into place for the IOM in the second half when the team seemed the click. Jonny Quirk beat his man to square the ball to Dylan Pickles who slotted home. A great through ball a minute later and the Sale full back held back Sid Batty who won and then converted his penalty to win the game 2-1.
Barmouth were up next, they set up very deep and were hard to break down, again the Isle of Man had a lot of possession but as the weather deteriorated it became difficult for the passing game that the COE like to play. A ball in behind from Jay Skelcher Maxwell for Dylan Pickles to run onto helped him add to his tally and take the lead. As the storm drew in and it became more windy, a long ball in behind the Isle of Man defence was chased down by the opposition who did well to beat Sean Jackson. Knowing that neither wanted to lose valuable points both teams remained cautious and the game stayed 1-1.
After a long day of group games the Isle of Man side had to gain valuable points to progress out of the group stages in a very tight competition. Their last game was against Edinburgh City, the weather descended into what can only be described as a sleet storm, but it managed not to stop the work rate of the Isle of Man lads. Another goal from a Jonny Quirk / Sid batty combination put the team one up before Danny Pinnington smashed home Joel Ibanez's square pass across the box to secure the Isle of Man as group winners and put them through to the semi finals on Sunday.
Sunday morning saw more of the same weather with storm showers punctuated by clear skies and sunshine. The Centre of Excellence lined up against a Wirral Schools select who had conceded only 2 goals in the group stages. Another superb forward pass from Batty was enough to draw the Wirral keeper out and Dylan Pickles to again beat his defender and head home of the stranded Wirral GK and put the IOM ahead. It was obvious that the northern side weren't used to being behind as the game quickly got very heated. When Joel Ibanez fired home a free kick from 25 yards into the top corner of the goal with 10 minutes to go the game was won and a place in the final secured.
After delays for the weather the Isle of Man lined up against TNS Academy u15s in the final, and after 5 minutes a great combination started by Michael Hughes from right back linking with Jay Skelcher and Joel Ibanez for Hughes again to get on the end of higher up the pitch and cross in for Jonny Quirk to head home and give the IOM the advantage. Unfortunately this didn't last and as the weekends heavy schedule took its toll on a couple of the COE players who reluctantly left the field injured. TNS equalised just before half time which kick started their confidence and pushed them forwards. The Isle of Man players battled on but it was too much to keep out TNS who went 3-1 up and then sat back to defend their lead. Jonny Quirk and Joel Ibanez both threaten hitting the bar and side netting but it wasn't enough and the Welsh Academy side lifted the trophy.
On Easter Monday, the squad travelled to Skelmserdale's JMO sports ground to play a friendly game against Evolution Soccer Academy. The Manx players are limited as to what exposure they can get to top quality opposition so had to make the most of the opportunity of being on the mainland. Mike Jolliffe's Academy side had 7 players well on their pathway to professional contracts so this was to be a true test for the Isle of Man. The game finished 4-1 to the Liverpool team however their freshness and the fatigue of the Manx as well as an injury list quickly racking up meant that the performance was of extra credit.
The trip was a great success for the players and a real building block in the players continued development. A huge thank you to all the coaches involved and to the parents for supporting the players through the programme both at the event and all season long. Most of all well done to the players who put themselves in an extremely competitive environment and thrived.
Sean Jackson, Barton Beaumont, Harri Radford, Adam Long, Lewis Bridson. Michael Hughes, Calum Holden, Carl Henson, Ryan Kinrade, Sid Batty, Joel Ibanez, Jay Skelcher - Maxwell, Danny Pinnington, Jonny Quirk, Dylan Pickles and Ollie Taylor.