THE West Cork Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League FAI Emerging Talent Programme has made a welcome return following a lengthy layoff.
The lifting of Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions saw the WCSSL’s ETP squads resume non-contact training in the Clonakilty Sports Complex last Wednesday evening.
First back on the astro-training pitch were the West Cork U12 Inter-League squad under the tutelage of DJ Curtin, Shane Hurley, Sean Spenser and Conor McKahey. Children drawn from clubs all over the region took part in their first training session of 2021 following the longest of unwanted layoffs.
On the same evening, the West Cork U13 Inter-League and U14 Kennedy Cup squads also restarted their respective ETP training schedules. This year’s U13’s will be managed by David Hall and Danny Logan while Áine O’Donovan, Sean Spenser and Lorne Edmeade are looking after the 2021 West Cork Kennedy Cup panel.
There were plenty of Zoom sessions, quizzes and online training during the winter months. WCSSL U12 Inter-League Coach and Head Coordinator of the ETP in West Cork, DJ Curtin, was delighted to get back out on a pitch and begin interacting with players once again.
“This is a day we have been waiting for a long while,” Curtin admitted to the Echo.
“To see all the happy and smiling faces of our U12 players arriving in for ETP training was lovely. There were as many happy parents as there were players I’d say, just to see their children back out on a pitch and playing football once again.
I think West Cork is at a bit of an advantage with our own FAI ETP in that we play calendar football between March and October. That means our leagues would usually be more or less up and running at this stage of the year.
"So, I’m not sure if other ETP centres within other schoolboys and schoolgirls leagues, that play through the winter months, were back like ourselves last week.
“Look, training in the ETP at this time of the year cannot but benefit the children involved. The good news is that all football clubs were permitted to start their academy training last week. So, pitches are now full of young children playing football all over the country whether they are in ETP centres or not.”
There is plenty for Curtin and his fellow U12 coaches to work on over the coming weeks. Naturally, West Cork’s youngest footballers will need time to rediscover their touch having spent so much time away from pitches since level 5 restrictions were first imposed.
Rustiness aside, the WCSSL is taking the correct approach with their Emerging Talent Programme. Slowly reintroducing their players to various drills and skills session will take time. Right now, the most important thing will be to ensure each ETP inter-league squad member has fun and is under zero pressure when they attend training sessions.
“It will be a case of just easing players back into it over the next couple of weeks,” DJ Curtin said.
“We will be focussing more on the fun element of playing football rather than reintroducing the technical or tactical aspects that come with being part of our FAI Emerging Talent Programme squads. From a physical point of view, our coaches will not be pushing the players too hard because they need time to readjust to the demands of training. It has been a long time for them to be away so we will be looking to gradually build up their fitness.
“Fun is what it will be all about over the next few weeks. We love having our players back and playing football but having fun and enjoying themselves is more important right now.”
Whatever about players being gradually reintroduced to the rigours of ETP training sessions, West Cork’s FAI-qualified coaches are in much the same boat. For DJ Curtin and his fellow WCSSL mentors, having fun and interacting with their players is all that matters for the next month.
“It will take a bit of time to knock a few of the cobwebs off the coaches too over the coming weeks,” the WCSSL ETP Coordinator said.
As a coach, there is only so much you can do on a Zoom session. You have to be out on a pitch with your players to develop and nurture their talent.
"The other thing is our players just need to be kicking a football and not listening to coaches trying to explain different formations or anything else like that.
“For now, we are focused on letting our players play. A ball at a child’s feet and just observing what they do with it is enough.
“It is fantastic to see the West Cork ETP U12, U13 and U14s back training in the Clonakilty Sports Complex on the Wednesday nights though. Training times are tiered so each group has an hour to themselves and full use of a terrific floodlit facility.
“We have retained the same squads since before lockdown even though it does not look likely that there will be any SFAI Subway Inter-League Championships for the U12 or U13s this year. Hopefully, we might yet have a tournament, if not the SFAI Kennedy Cup itself, at some stage of the summer for our U14s.
“All that has yet to be confirmed but, once we get the go-ahead from the HSE, rest assured the West Cork ETP will immediately look to start organising friendlies with other U12, U13 and U14 inter-league teams.”