THE FAI’s Emerging Talent Programme continues to identify and develop talented young players with a view to helping them progress onto the international stage.
A complete cessation of all activities has not stopped Irish football making headlines over the past number of weeks. Stephen Kenny’s ascension to the Irish international senior manager’s role and Mick McCarthy’s subsequent departure made for an interesting couple of days.
Yet, while FAI senior management and off-field changes continue apace, it is worth noting that the quality of the association’s grassroots section remains on an upward curve.
West Cork is a good example of where the FAI’s efforts have been successfully implemented at grassroots level. The FAI’s Emerging Talent Programme (ETP) has seen a structured approach to selecting the best West Cork Schoolboys League players at U11, U12, U13, and U14 age-grades begin to reap dividends.
Once ETP squads have been finalised (following month-long trials) then all the selected players embark on weekly training sessions under the guidance of local FAI-qualified coaches. The Subway SFAI Championships provides West Cork’s players with regular, quality games against fellow Munster ETP squads.
A word too for the annual Kennedy Cup which offers U14 players from the West Cork region an opportunity to test themselves against the best schoolboys leagues in the country at the annual tournament in the University of Limerick.
A new Munster U14 Inter-League competition has proven a welcome addition this past year. Shane Hurley’s West Cork Kennedy Cup squad took on fellow Munster opponents in a round-robin format before qualifying for a provincial Plate final against Kerry.
Last year, Hurley’s West Cork squad travelled to the Blackpool Cup in England and brought home an U13 trophy following a string of impressive performances. The WCSL saw off plenty of opponents from the British Isles and beyond including English League One club Shrewsbury Town.
Yet, it is the improved performances across all the WCSL age-grades over the past 24 months that bodes well for the rural region’s future. The addition of a new U11 ETP inter-league squad represents another welcome step forward. Last year, a large group of U11 and U12 WCSL players went to Barcelona under coach David Hall’s tutelage and played numerous friendlies against Catalan opponents.
The new U11 ETP squad coupled with the West Cork Schoolboys League Committee’s decision to develop a new U11 domestic league means a generation of players will gain a vital introduction to competitive football at a younger age.
Regular nine-a-side league and cup games will give some of the WCSL’s youngest stars a taste of competitive action, but in a safe and player-friendly environment. Those two recent decisions have been warmly received by head of the West Cork ETP DJ Curtin.
“We are really happy with how the new U11 inter-league squad has worked out,” Curtin told The Echo.
“There are some terrific players there and a total of 34 on the squad. I’m not saying that we have all the best U11 players in West Cork by any stretch, but we have a good share of them involved.
“As a group, they have been training really well and bringing plenty of intensity to our sessions. I am really looking forward to working with the U11 squad whenever and wherever we get back out playing again. It will be very interesting to see how these players develop at the U12 age-grade and beyond over the next few seasons.
“The decision to have to make the U12 squad smaller for the 2021 season will be an extremely tough one for everyone involved and especially the coaches in charge. I have to say that the U11 players we brought together have been brilliant to deal with, trained extremely hard and did all that is asked of them. There are some really good players in the current squad with bright futures ahead of them.”
As well as the Inter-League Championships, the WCSL has also benefitted from taking part in the National Cups. The national knockout competitionshave seen West Cork make its mark at provincial and national level.
Every season, a break from the local fixtures offers WCSL clubs the chance to go up against the cream of the Cork Schoolboys League. Last season, Bantry Bay Rovers U14s made headlines by defeating Leeside, Macroom, and Kilworth to progress from Cork.
The last 32 draw delivered a glamour tie away to Shamrock Rovers. Alas, Bantry proved no match for the world-famous club’s academy but showed that they could mix it with some of the best schoolboys league clubs in Cork.
A year before, Lyre Rovers went one better by reaching the last 16 in U13 National Cup. The Knockskeagh outfit qualified from the Cork section by defeating Kinsale, Innishvilla, and Macroom. That set up a last 32 tie at home to Dundalk club Glenmuir Celtic and a famous 3-0 triumph. Another bumper attendance descended upon Knockskeagh for Lyre’s last 16 clash with Douglas Hall who ended the West Cork team’s interest in the competition.
So, West Cork is just one of the country’s rural schoolboys leagues continuing to benefit from the FAI’s grassroots set-up. Let’s hope even more provincial and national memories will be created once Covid-19 is gone from our shores.