Foyle Cup funding refusal 'disappointing and bewildering'

Organisers of one of Northern Ireland’s premier youth football tournaments say a decision to turn down a bid for Tourism NI funding for a second year is “bewildering”.

The 2024 O'Neill's Foyle Cup will see more than 700 clubs compete across the north west in July.

It has been described as the “best tournament about” for local players by Liverpool FC’s rising academy star Trent Kone Doherty.

Tourism NI said the application for £30,000 did not achieve the ranking necessary for funding to be allocated to the event.

Foyle Cup secretary Philp Devlin said he does not believe the tourism body understands the value of the tournament.

foyle parade in derry
Tourism NI said the tournament's application did not achieve the necessary ranking [BBC]

“We felt with having over 13,000 competitors, 200,000 spectators, over 14,000 bed nights, and an economic investment of over £6m and £8m, that we were well within the criteria to receive the funding,” Mr Devlin told BBC Radio Foyle’s North West Today programme.

“It is disappointing and bewildering to hear the funding application had been turned down,” he added.

The Foyle Cup has in previous years successfully applied for Tourism NI funding.

Mr Devlin said this year’s event would still go ahead.

The funding shortfall will be made up by private sponsorship and from the coffers of the Derry and District football association – the body which runs the Foyle Cup.

Oxford Bulls football team
The Oxford Bulls, a football team made up of children with Down's syndrome, made their bow in the tournament in 2019 [BBC]

The first Foyle Cup kicked off in 1992 with just eight all-boy teams taking part.

This year’s entry of 730 clubs includes about 140 all-girl teams. Young players from across the UK and Ireland, Europe, China and North America will all vie for footballing glory.

Future international players including James McClean, Niall McGinn, Seamus Coleman, Robbie Keane and John O Shea have all played in the tournament in their youth.

Liverpool’s Trent Kone Doherty launched this year’s tournament in Derry last week.

He played in the tournament for boyhood side Foyle Harps.

trent kone doherty
Liverpool's Trent Kone Doherty said the Foyle Cup allows young players to showcase their skills. [Getty Images]

The 17-year-old said it was a great opportunity for young people to showcase their talent.

“The tournament is quite big in terms of young players; if they do well there’s a lot of clubs coming to watch, it’s a good opportunity for everyone to get noticed,” he said.

'Fantastic festival of football'

Mr Devlin said he will meet Tourism NI in the days ahead to discuss why the application was turned down.

In a statement, Tourism NI said the tournament had applied for funding through its International Tourism Events Funding Scheme.

“This is a competitive process as the applications received by Tourism NI always exceed the budget available under the scheme", Tourism NI said.

It added: “The scheme is based on the principle of driving additional tourism benefits that would not otherwise be achieved in the absence of the financial assistance sought.

“Unfortunately, on this occasion, the application submitted for the Foyle Cup did not achieve the ranking necessary for funding to be allocated to the event”.

SDLP MLA for Foyle Mark H Durkan said he has raised the funding bid with Economy Minister Conor Murphy.

“My view would be that the funding will help us grow, would help it become even more international,” Mr Durkan told BBC Radio Foyle.

“It’s bigger than politics. The Foyle Cup is a fantastic festival of football,” he said.