Carlisle United’s new crop of first-year scholars were officially welcomed into the under-18 set-up at their induction day last Saturday when they all got together at Creighton Rugby Club to meet each other, sign their contracts and enjoy a first training session as a group.
The nine new arrivals are Matthew Bell (winger), Nic Bollado (forward), Lewis Boyd (keeper), Ryan Carr (midfielder), Harvey Gordon (defender), Mason Hardy (forward), Dan Hill (defender/midfielder), Kai Nugent (midfielder) and Alex Potts (midfielder/defender).
Speaking about the new intake, academy boss Eric Kinder said: “We’re really pleased because we think we’ve got another good group of young men.
“That’s important, because if a dressing room has the right attitude it gives you a great starting point. This year we’ve had six who have come through our own academy system, which is a huge pat on the back for the way our under-9 to 16 age group coaches are doing their business.
“The other three are coming over from the north-east, two of them from junior football, and that in itself will add an edge for them.”
“Looking at them first, Ryan Carr is a midfield player who was released by Newcastle and he’s actually been involved in our youth team for the last two or three months,” he added. “That’s been good for him. He’s been able to have a look at us and he knows he’s coming to a club that wants to look at different areas of his game.
“Ryan has played as a centre half for Newcastle’s under-16s all season, but I don’t see him as playing there at all. It’ll be an interesting period for him.
“The lads from the junior scene over there are both forwards, Nic Bollado and Mason Hardy. We’ve looked at two strikers because we feel that Sam Fishburn could well be working with the first team next term, with the way that he’s gone about his business this season.
“There’s no guarantee that will happen, he still has to keep working hard, but we’ve adjusted our planning just in case. Nic and Mason have been with Cramlington Juniors and Newcastle City Boys, so they’ve never been to an academy, but we’ve seen something in both of them.
“Sam Fishburn is a great example to them, he came out of local football over in Newcastle and he’s taken to it like a duck to water. Looking back we had the same with Gary Madine, Mark Beck and Andy Cook, and look how well that worked out for us and them in the recent past.
“None of those lads had ever been to academy, but their hunger to succeed and perform is unbelievable. Nic looks like he’ll be a goal scorer and Mason looks like he’ll be a very good footballer, so the opportunity is there for them.”
And with the six lads from United’s academy, he explained: “Our keeper, Lewis Boyd, comes with good references from Nicky Hill, our keeper coach, and from the other staff who have worked with him.
“We felt we needed another keeper to go with the two we already have, who will now move into their second year. That means it will even itself out after next year, and we’ll be back to one first year and one second year keeper.
“Taking Scott Simons and Gabriel Breeze on last summer was the right thing to do because they are both fantastic young keepers. They stood out in their final year as under-16s and it would have been wrong not to follow that through. Obviously that means we’ve had three keepers, but we’ve been comfortable with that.
“In terms of balancing appearances for these lads, it actually hasn’t been a problem with the way that Gabriel has been away with the first team so much, particularly through the second half of this season.
“That’s given Scott a lot of game time. We also had Isaac Robinson, our second year, but this is a cruel sport. I’ve said before that football isn’t a charity, it’s a business, and we had to make an announcement on him quite early.
“As soon as we did that we used our first year keepers, to give them a chance, and they’ve handled it really well.
“Lewis knows that his first season will be a lot of watching and learning, along with being given a chance to play as much as is possible. That will depend on how much the other two are around the first team, but it’s a nice problem to have.”
“With the make up of our team this season, the back five and the keeper have all been first years, with the exception of Roan Steele at right back and Elliott Day in the middle,” he continued. “That tells you that these young lads have done really well with the results they’ve picked up, so they should go on to form a strong unit for next season.
“With that in mind we’ve only brought one out-and-out defender in, and a midfield player who we think we can turn into a right back.
“Harvey Gordon is a big, strong centre half who we think will really enjoy that role. Alex Potts is a central midfield player, but he’s one I’ve always had eyes on as possibly being a right back.
“Kai Nugent is a midfielder who has trained with us during the school holidays, and he spent all of last pre-season with us, so he knows what we’re about.
“Matthew Bell can play wide left, he has good pace and strength, and then there’s Dan Hill who has been involved with the youth team at under-18 level for quite a while now. He’s versatile, he can play in defence or further up the pitch, and I’ve been really impressed with him.
“He was actually the first of this younger group to sign. We signed him when we got back from Walsall, which was probably the second week of December, because we knew he had the right attitude.”
Clearly with an open mind towards where these lads will eventually hang their hats, he reiterated the need to watch closely as each player grows into their new environment.
“What we have to remember is that these lads are only 16,” he commented. “They all have a long way to go and you have to be open-minded about what position or roles they might play.
“Brad Potts came to us as a centre half and there was no way he was ever going to be comfortable in that position. He wouldn’t head a ball, so it just wasn’t for him. We moved him to right back and that’s where he got his first team debut. He eventually finished up as a box-to-box midfielder.
“It’s all about opinion, but we must wait and see how each player develops. We can’t pigeonhole anyone because that isn’t fair on lads of this age. We’ll use pre-season to look at them, and that will help us to make judgements that will mean we can start the season off with an initial idea, but even that might change as we go on from there.
“The contradiction here is that you tend to pick and sign a player based on a position. That’s fine, it’s part of the planning process, but from there you have to serve the player as well as you can by utilising his strengths and developing his weaknesses. That’s why you have to sometimes change their position, so that you give them the best chance.
“Jack Ellis, he’s now going into his second year, and he’s a good example. He came to us a midfield player, or right back, and he’s ended up playing every position on the pitch for us this season. It’s taken us to now, almost the end of the season, to decide that his attributes have developed to fit with him going forward as a centre half.
“We’ve made it clear to them all that they do come with a position, but that it might change. In terms of maintaining the positive environment, they’ll see very quickly that we have a way of doing things, and it’s about respect.
“These lads have all had training sessions with us, some have had more and have even played for us so, again, they know what we’re about. Their induction day is completed, they’ve seen bits of the club already, and this is where the hard work starts for them.”