Looking back on February the main thing was definitely the senior team winning the League Cup. I attended the match with my son and it was great to see so many of the Academy players attend the game. I really hope that days & evenings like these can hopefully motivate our players on to do the same themselves, especially when there is two graduates from the Academy on the pitch in Leroy Millar and Caolan Loughran.
That for me was the most pleasing thing, as I know I’ve only come into club last August but that is the target to get as many local players into first team squad.
Before the final, David (Jeffrey) invited me to the pre-match meal where he gave his usual team talk to the players. As I sat there, I was thinking I wish I could record this to share with all of our Youth Academy coaches. ‘Respect’ and ‘Hard work’ were the key points he made, ahead of the game against Carrick.
The one that struck me most was ‘make no mistake, Carrick Rangers want to win this final as much as you do!’. It was a simple message reminding players of that fact. If our players through the Youth Academy could adopt this approach to their games, that the other teams want to win just as much as they do.
I wanted to highlight my thoughts from some of the games that I’ve taken in during February.
National League Under-12’s v Ballinamallard United
This game finished as a draw, but the boys responded really well after being 2-0 down after just ten minutes. Everyone kept positive and worked hard, there was no negativity from the sidelines which is a crucial message to coaches. Calum Douglas scored two goals but it was a great team effort and from what I took from the game the boys seem to have a very good attitude and togetherness.
Under-14’s v Glentoran Academy
Despite the 3-0 defeat in this game, the effort was good and the boys did well against a strong Glentoran team. What I’ve been trying to get across to coaches and players is – No matter how good you think you are, you can ALWAYS improve! The old saying that you’re only as good as your last game, that’s what people will remember. So the effort and drive has to come from within. It may start with small steps, but players should look to be the best in training or in games which is good – but then you want to challenge yourself to be the best on the pitch or in your position. Small targets develop into bigger ones as our players should be wanting to challenge themselves to be best in the league or best for my age group!
National League Under-15’s v St. Oliver Plunkett
Great result and performance for the Under-15’s winning 3-0, it was a good honest game with good football played in parts. There was also a good togetherness and application to work hard when we had the ball and when we hadn’t the ball. I spoke with Colin and Paddy a few times and was worried that sometimes it looked low on confidence, but recently they have been doing great through hard work and self belief.
National League Under-14’s v. St. Oliver Plunkett
The boys initially went 4-0 down and were playing poorly, there was no structure to their play and gave the opposition too much respect. However, the half time team talk worked wonders, at this stage they had nothing to lose other than their dignity and eventually pulled a goal back and the momentum kept building and building and they deserved to level the game at 4-4 and go onto win on penalties.
Despite being a Manchester United fan, I have to admit I have read Steven Gerrard’s book – he was never in the England Schoolboys team, but that didn’t stop him and look at the career he went on to have. Some of our players may not be selected for National sides but with hard work and self belief they have a chance. Without those ingredients, I’m afraid they won’t. Our coaches also need to take account of what they are teaching the kids, ‘Am I telling the team what they want to hear or what they need to hear?’, ‘Am I making sense of what our game plan is?’, ‘Am I being too positive or too negative?’.
The message I give to the lads in the Player of the Month sessions, is to yes work as a team – but individually improve yourself technically and physically.
I remember pre-season all those years ago at Linfield under David Jeffrey (and I know he still does those gruelling 12 minute runs still!). It was mentally and physically tough but your on your own and if you’re in better condition than your team-mate it does you no good to stay at his pace because you’re cheating yourself if you are holding back.
We want to kids to have that mind-set - HELPING YOURSELF WILL HELP THE TEAM!