Academy boss Darren Edmondson gave us an update on the under-18 side following their return to league action from a short festive break.
“It was a disappointing result for us at the weekend,” he said. “We came up against a good Preston outfit who have established themselves as one of the top three or four clubs in this division for a good few years now.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, but it just hits home a few reminders about what’s required. As always we try to take some positives, and we use every game to reinforce one or two of our messages about mentality and approach to games, so that’s why it’s good to get them back into the swing of things.”
With the season now at a key stage, for the second years in particular, he told us: “The fact of the matter is, for the majority of people, you tend to only get one chance at being a professional footballer.
“It’s getting harder and harder to drop out and then come back into it through the non-league system, and that’s something we all need to be aware of. For this group of boys, this is the best opportunity and the best way to achieve it. That’s a message we will continue to reinforce.”
Having come back following the festive break with the game against Preston last weekend, he added: “Results are important, that’s why we didn’t enjoy getting beat.
“We want to create a winning environment, but ultimately there are clubs who are better prepared within their academies than we are. However, what we’re trying to do is produce more Liam McCarron style players who have the ability and mental strength to break through.
“Hopefully we’ll make money out of them, or we’ll get hundreds of appearances out of them at first team level, and that will mean that we’re helping the club to move forward. So yes, results do matter, but we’re also always looking to identify the lads who can make it through to the next level.
“What has been shown at this club is that the opportunity is there for players who are good enough to make the step up. We do get hung up on results, we all do and rightly so, because this is a results-based business. The fact is that a team that’s winning helps you to produce players who are confident and who can do well.
“It’s all encompassed in the same environment and ideally all of the pieces fall into place. With Liam, it’s good for the academy that he’s made his first senior league appearance because it lets the other lads know that if they can produce consistent levels, and if they maintain appetite and desire for the game, there’s a chance there for them.
“Seeing Liam progress in this way has been great for the morale of the coaches, his team mates and for the parents of the other boys who are working hard to get through what is a tough process.
“We are starting to see a definite pathway, but it still needs improving. The board and David Holdsworth are aware of that and the meetings we have on a monthly basis are all about how we achieve it.
“We’re constantly talking about how we can develop players better, how to produce more of our own that are ready, and how to make sure players who take a step up are given a good chance to kick on.
“For the second years, it’s a six-day week they have to take part in because they have college two days a week. They play on Saturday so Sunday is their only real day of rest. Mentally that can be a real slog.
“At this time of year they naturally start to think about the football side of things and the decisions that will be made. The next two months are vital for the seven lads who are still waiting to find out what the immediate future holds.
“The question they need to ask themselves is whether they can get on Liam’s coat tails. It’s all down to what they produce in training and how they perform in the practice matches when they’re in front of the manager. It’s up to them to stake a claim, nobody else can do that for them.
“A lot of it comes down to dealing with the mental stresses that they face. You can be a good footballer, but if you’re nervous and you give the ball away because there’s too many things going round in your head, that will mean you aren’t going to make it. The mental side of this game is vital and that’s the difference between becoming a professional and not, certainly most of the time.
“They’re all here because they have ability, so it’s about getting that side of your mind right so that you can kick on. It’s the urgency and desire being bottled away that can let you down.
“No decisions have been made at all yet. All of these boys have time to make their case, but it does come around very quickly. January is already flying through, and before you know it you’re into March, which is when the decisions are made.
“We’ll be discussing it a lot with them from now onwards because we’ve seen how it can start to affect people the closer it gets. If they deal with it and show the right attitude, the contract is there.
“We’ve concluded the recruitment process for next season. The good thing for the club is that all of the boys who come through our academy, with some being with us longer than others. They’ll get programmes now to make sure they’re ready for next summer, where it’s full on and intense.
“That process is something we’re keen to keep working at, if our under-16 players are good enough. I just feel it has to be that way. Years of stats which show when we’ve taken players from Middlesbrough, Newcastle and other clubs like that – bringing them over and putting them in digs – there’s a fine balance between how many of them have succeeded and how many of our own have succeeded.
“Invariably our own do well, but they need to be good enough. Just because a player has been in the academy since he was nine doesn’t mean he’ll automatically get a scholarship. That isn’t the way we can do this. For every 18 who go through the scholarship you might only find one or two, but that’s great for the football club.”
And on this weekend's trip to Fleetwood, he commented: “Every week brings a different challenge. Fleetwood have altered their recruitment, they’ve gone more British based, and they’re putting some of the influx of money they’ve had into the academy.
“They’ve got some Irish lads in and some cockney lads, because they felt that locally they didn’t quite have the resources or talent to come through. It’s a club on the up, but it’ll be good to go up against them.
“We took them very close in the Youth Cup game, but we were beaten by two moments of brilliance from their striker, so we think it’ll be a good game."
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