AS a coach with the Cork City U13 team, Kevin O’Brien is developing some of the best young players in the city and county in their first step towards the elite level.
O’Brien is a part of a City U13 coaching set-up with UEFA Pro Licence Holder Greg Yelverton as the manager. This is the second year of the U13 grade, with the League of Ireland now operating at U13, U15, U17 and U19.
“It has been a very rewarding and an excellent experience to work with them, that is before even talking about their ability on the pitch. They are a terrific group.
“I could talk about individual players, but just all of them are fantastic, because of their attitude and because of their willingness to learn. Already you can tell, there are a lot of lads well capable of making it up to the first team and even going abroad.
“But there is a long way to go with them and at this stage, it is all about development and getting them into good habits.”
There is strong criticism in some quarters about having a League Of Ireland at U13 level.
The majority of players are in primary school when they're recruited and, as there is no U14 squad in place, only half progress the next year to U15.
Cork Schoolboys League clubs are understandably hugely frustrated at losing their best players at such a young age, while Cork City operates on a summer schedule and local leagues are through the winter, which can make it awkward for players released.
But from the perspective of someone who sees and coaches kids first hand at this age group with City, O’Brien feels there are huge benefits.
“For the players, it gives them a glimpse of what it is like to be involved with the club. They get to have a feel for what it is like to represent Cork City FC as a player.
“Even if they are in it for one year, the progression they get to their game is fantastic. Asking questions and learning more about the game.
“Even if it is the bare minimum, it is a great learning experience from training sessions and matches.
“To have the chance to represent Cork City as well. Overall, the main benefits would be progression as a player, making new friends, everything. It is just brilliant for them.”
City have qualified for Phase 2 of the U13 National League, where they will face Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and Galway United during the month of October. The main priority is player development and education.
“If they display the things that we are working on in training or working on maybe solutions for themselves, then we as a coaching team are very happy.
“Even going into this Elite Phase, we are not telling them we have to beat Bohs or beat Shamrock Rovers or Galway, we are taking it as a learning opportunity.
“We have told them it is something not to fear playing these teams. These are the games we want to play.
"Obviously, they might have expectations of themselves and want to win, but for us it is all about developing, especially at U13 level.
“If we win this group and get into a final, absolutely amazing or win it out is a dream come true. But what would be more important is their development and progression.”
Caolan Walsh, Denjoe O’Riordan, Jamie Kelly, Luke Downey, Timothy Bailey, Cathal O’Sullivan, Ciaran Galvin, Danny Miskella, Devon Gibson, Dylan O’Neill, Finn Dalton, Jayden Adair-Bell, Liam Quinn, Matthew Moore, Sean Richmond, Denzell Obenge, Mikey Pedley.