How Leeds United physio and James Milner brought silverware to Elland Road
The annual international competition, held on Northern Ireland’s north coast, has featured a who’s who of British and Irish players and foreign stars.
David Beckham, Joe Cole, Sergio Busquets, Steve Staunton, Steve McManaman, Wayne Rooney, Ledley King, Peter Crouch, Radamel Falcao, Humberto Suazo – who played in Marcelo Bielsa’s Chilean national side – and ex-Leeds United strikers Mikael Forssell and David Healy have all graced what is now called SuperCupNI.
Bielsa favourite and Whites utility man Stuart Dallas played in four consecutive Milk Cup tournaments for County Tyrone, between 2005 and 2008.
But another current Leeds United employee can boast of going one better, winning the Premier [Under-16] section in 2002 – not that he does boast about it, Henry McStay isn’t altogether sure if any of the playing staff at Elland Road are aware that he played alongside James Milner for a Whites side who travelled across the Irish Sea to give the club their first and only Milk Cup triumph.
Then, he was a defender and Thorp Arch academy prospect.
Today he is the lead physio working with Bielsa’s first team.
It was the Milk Cup that brought him to Leeds’ attention.
“I played for County Armagh, in the Under-14 tournament and obviously a lot of scouts go to the games,” he said.
“I got a trial for Leeds from that.”
On March 6, 2000, the day he celebrated his 15th birthday, McStay made the move to England and lived, initially, near the training ground with a family.
Two years later he was living in digs at Thorp Arch when Leeds gave him the welcome news that he was homeward bound for a week or so.
“I remember them coming and telling us we were going to play in the Milk Cup,” he said.
“It was brilliant, it was lovely to go back.
“At that age, if you travel with the team – we’d played together and travelled down the road a few hours to games – but this one was in a different country, staying in a hotel.
“It was our first real taste of playing in a big tournament. It was a great experience for everybody, especially the younger ones playing up.”
Leeds had sent Under-16 representation in 2000 and 2001, but sides including Chris Kamara, Matthew Kilgallon and Shaun Allaway were unable to return with any silverware.
The class of 2002 featured goalkeeper Scott Carson, defender Sean McDaid, midfielders Milner and Martin Woods and attackers Andy Keogh and Barry Corr, who recalls playing in a talented team.
“Henry was the captain, a really good one even at that age,” said Corr. He was a brilliant header of the ball, could head it further than he could kick it!
“It was a good team, there were some really good players.
“It’s funny, Kevin Cronin texted me a few weeks ago with a few images of the final and I said to him ‘God can you believe we were on the pitch with two Champions League winners, Milner and Carson?’. You could tell straight away Milner was talented but he was so professional and mature.
“I still take pleasure in watching his career, there he is winning a Premier League, a Champions League winner like Scott, it’s brilliant.”
Leeds beat Panathinaikos 4-0 in the final at the Coleraine Showgrounds. Jamie Winter scored twice, Corr and Woods got the others for Warren Joyce’s side.
“All my family were there,” said McStay who, by chance, bumped into Keogh in Dubai last summer en route to Australia for Leeds’ pre-season tour. “I remember us all getting our photo taken and milk getting thrown everywhere.
“I played centre-half with Rob Constable all the way through, but he got injured and Simon Walton, who was two years below, played in the final.
“It was quite a talented team, seeing what they’ve gone on to now.”
McStay’s career took him to Irish League Portadown, a spell with Joyce at Royal Antwerp and a stint at Morecambe, before injury retired him.
His story came full circle in 2012 when he rejoined Leeds and, in his own way, became a Milk Cup winner who got the cream. He said: “I met my now-wife at Leeds, so I’d always had a connection to Leeds.
“I got injured quite badly when I was at Morecambe but was doing a physiotherapy degree and whenever I finished playing and went on to be a physio I’d kept in touch with staff at Leeds United and started doing part-time work for them.
“I’ve always worked in football, I’m on a different side of it now.
“I came over at 15 and it’s nice still to be involved with the club all these years later.”