The second half of the season is always a stressful time for the club’s second year scholars as their education programmes come to a close, and as thoughts turn to the decisions to be made on contracts to be offered.
Along with the additional stresses which accompany isolation anyway, we spoke to youth boss Eric Kinder this week about how the lads deal with what is an important stage of their career.
“You can talk to the second years all you want, and try to calm them down, but they all think that this is ruining their chances of getting a contract,” he confirmed. “I fully understand that, I’ve worked long enough with this age group so I know how they tick and what they think.
“They do start to feel sorry for themselves and worry about everything, but that’s natural for boys of their age. It’s been such a stop-start 12 months for these lads and they’ll feel that they haven’t really been able to get going.
“And, as we know, the second years are entering the last three months of their contract, and we’ve already got our eyes on next season and what we need to bring in.
“It’s a strange situation, but I hope they come back as hungry as they were before we broke up back in December.”
“What I can say is that they’re one of the best groups I’ve worked with at Carlisle,” he told us. “When I say that, I don’t mean football, even though they’ve done very well on that side of it, it’s them as a group of people.
“They’re probably overall the best group of lads I’ve dealt with. They’re good young men and you do go out of your way to help them, because we know they want to do everything right for us in return.”
But looking more at the range of emotions these young men are bound to be feeling, he commented: “Some of them are good at letting their feelings be known vocally. Some keep it to themselves, and they’re obviously more difficult to help.
“You do get to know the ones who are usually chirpy, and those who react in different ways, so you can tend to tell when someone isn’t feeling quite right. That’s why we keep in touch with all of them all the time.
“We have lads like Elliott [Day] who is always asking questions, talking, sharing his opinion, and he likes to be around people and having a bit of fun. He sees himself as the joker of the pack and he’s good to have around, so he’s feeling this lockdown probably more than any of them because he needs that type of interaction.
“We have to keep talking to and reassuring all of the lads because there isn’t anything we can do about the situation we find ourselves in right now. Every year we tell the second-year lads that whatever happens we’ll deal with it, we won’t just let them slide away, and we’re always there to help.
“Mark Birch is very involved in looking after these lads because he is really close with all of them. He gets attached to his players because he wants them all to do well. I’m the same, but having done the job for so much longer you get used to it as the years go by and you find you’re able to move on because you know you’ve got a new season ahead and another group coming in.
“You always know you’ve done a good job when your ex-players ring you up for help, even when they’re 30-years old, because they still want to hear your thoughts. We’re there for the lads, they know that, and the really pleasing thing is that they’re there for each other.
“They’ll have the anxiety of their contract decisions to come, they’ll be thinking about that all of the time, and we’ll remind them that if they keep working hard then that’s all we can ask of them. It’s like anything, give it your all and don’t sit there with regrets if you haven’t.”
But, despite sitting top of the pile, does he carry any frustration at the fact that the team could and probably should have even more points and, subsequently, a wider points gap to second place.
“We should have more points right now, there’s no question about that,” he agreed. “That’ll be the annoying thing at the end of the season if we miss out by three or four points.
“In this game it doesn’t matter how well you play, whatever the score is when the final whistle goes becomes what it is. That’s why there’s no point looking back and regretting things too much.
“It’s human nature to think about what could have been – I was like it after the FA Youth Cup game when I know we let ourselves down. We should have won that game and we should have been playing Arsenal.
“But, that’s selfish from my point, because nobody remembers who won the Youth Alliance in 2021, but they do remember if you get players through to a full contract and on the pitch with the first team.
“If those players are still playing at the age of 30, that’s when the club starts to get a good reputation.”