Cork soccer: West Cork's most talented young players getting back on track

Cork soccer: West Cork's most talented young players getting back on track
The West Cork Schoolboys U13 Inter-League squad that reached the 2019 Subway SFAI Munster Plate final where they lost to South Tipperary (1-0) at Canon Crowley Park in Drinagh.

THE West Cork Schoolboys League’s Emerging Talent Programme has made a welcome return ahead of the 2020-21 Subway SFAI Munster and National Inter-League championships.

Last season’s WCSL U11 squad are currently being put through their paces in weekly ETP training sessions by their head coach and ETP Coordinator DJ Curtin.

The plan is to have the current crop of youngest West Cork talent ready for whenever the SFAI confirm a return to inter-league action. Ahead of the new campaign, Curtin’s fledglings are preparing to move up and compete in the ultra-competitive U12 age-grade.

“The WCSL ETP is delighted to be back training in the Clonakilty Sports Complex in Scartagh, Clonakilty,” DJ Curtin informed the Echo.

“We are grateful to the complex for opening up and allowing us to train once again. Obviously, things are very different for the coaches, players and their parents too since returning post-Covid. A lot of FAI protocols have been put in place and we are abiding by those at every session.

“Normally, our U11’s and U12’s share a pitch and use a half each. That means that you could have anything from 50 to 60 children out on the astro pitch at any one time. We have been able to re-jig our training times to make sure each group now has a full pitch to work with. The ETP is very thankful for that.”

DJ Curtin and his fellow coaches are currently looking after close to 30 (U11) players having retained the bulk of last year’s squad. It is a busy time but a welcome respite from months of inactivity.

“No player has been put under any pressure to return to training and they have all been told to come back when they are happy to do so,” Curtin added.

“Skibbereen AFC’s Sean Spenser is helping me coach the current U11 inter-league panel. There are no squad announcements or alterations just yet while we wait for everyone to come back in their own time. At the moment, it is refreshing to see so many of the U11’s out there and we are averaging between 20 and 25 players at every training session.”

A new West Cork Schoolboys U11 League, put in place by the WCSL Committee for the 2020 season, never got a chance to get off the ground. The Covid-19 global pandemic ended the WCSL’s hopes of running any of their age-grades including the U11 Divisions back in early March.

From an Emerging Talent point of view, an opportunity for children aged 11 and under to play in a competitive, nine-a-side environment is hugely important for their future development.

“The good news is that all of these players will compete in the WCSL’s new U11 league which should, all going well, get going sometime in August,” DJ Curtin enthused.

“It is hugely important for all players but especially the ETP U11s to get back training and playing competitive football as soon as possible. West Cork has moved to a single calendar year format, March to November, but the SFAI National Cups are due to begin in September. It is our U11s (new U12s) that will be competing in those competitions.

“Up until this year, Saturday morning indoor Futsal and outdoor astro blitzes were all these lads would have experienced. That was also non-competitive football so we felt those players would be at a distinct disadvantage being thrown straight into competitions like the National Cups.

“Bringing in a West Cork Schoolboys U11 league division bridges that gap and will use the U12 format in terms of pitch size and nine-a-side teams. Now, our West Cork talent will have experienced outdoor, competitive action before being asked to take on Cork Schoolboys League clubs in SFAI National Cups.” 

The West Cork Schoolboys U12 Inter-League squad that faced Kerry in the 2019 Subway SFAI U12 Munster Plate quarter-finals following a fourth-place group finish.
The West Cork Schoolboys U12 Inter-League squad that faced Kerry in the 2019 Subway SFAI U12 Munster Plate quarter-finals following a fourth-place group finish.

The significance of a new U11 grade cannot be underestimated at such a critical time in a young footballer’s development. DJ Curtin believes players, parents, clubs and the region’s ETP will see the benefits of delivering competitive game time to children aged between 10 and 12.

“It is absolutely vital that West Cork boys and girls at the ages of 10, 11 and 12 experience outdoor football in a competitive but also a friendly environment,” the WCSL ETP Coordinator commented.

“That is an age they soak everything up and their physical development is really important. If they don’t develop their technique and good habits at this time of their life, they never will. There is a window of opportunity to work with the West Cork ETP and enhance their speed development right now as well which is equally important.

“Plus, when the squad get back into a routine, building up their strength and working on their skills, you see the improvement with each passing week. 12 weeks of little or no football means it is going to take time to build that up again.

“All of our WCSL ETP groups are behind where they should be at this time of the year. They have lost out on 15 or 16 training sessions not to mention friendlies so we have a lot of work to do in a relatively short amount of time.

“Having said that, the enthusiasm is absolutely brilliant. Everyone is delighted to be back training. They are turning up on time and listening intently. Long may that continue! It is great to see them smiling and that’s why they are with us (ETP), to learn and develop but more importantly, to play the game they love.”

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