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YOUTH: What a great occasion for Dave

Mark Birch ahead of tonight's FA Youth Cup game

31 October 2023

Club News

YOUTH: What a great occasion for Dave

Mark Birch ahead of tonight's FA Youth Cup game

31 October 2023

The under-18 side face Barnsley under the lights at Brunton Park tonight (kick off 6pm) in the first-round proper of this season’s FA Youth Cup competition.

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“Everybody is aware of what the FA Youth Cup is,” youth boss Mark Birch said. “For the last three or four weeks the one thing the lads have been asking over and over is when the draw was being made, and saying how they all hoped it would be a home game.

“That’s happened for us, we’re playing against good opposition, and football is all about grasping opportunities. This is a chance for the lads in the squad to step up - and who will be the one that people will be talking about after the game?

“It is about the team, of course it is, but there is always a player that stands out and people sit up and take notice of. We’re asking the lads today, who is that going to be? Who will rise to the challenge?

“The first team staff will be there and that’s something else they’ve got to handle as well. As we say, who is the player the manager and his staff will be talking about afterwards?

“I’ve been there myself, there’s always that one player who catches the eye and the fans start to get a little bit excited about. My challenge to the lads is to make sure it’s you, you be the one. It’s exciting for them and I’m looking forward to it for them. I can’t wait for it to be honest.”

But what do we know about the opposition?

“They’re a Category 2 team and I think they won their league last year, and they’re up there again this year,” he told us. “They’re good opposition, but that’s what the FA Youth Cup brings.

“It brings shocks, it’s testing mentally and physically because you’re doing things you don’t get every Saturday when you’re up at Creighton.

“You’re playing under the lights in a stadium, it’s on a great pitch in front of fans. As much as getting the football right they’ve got to learn how to handle the occasion as well.

“That’s what we want them to do, and we’ve sat down and talked to them about how they’ll do that. We’ve got good staff around us who have been there and played at higher levels, so it’s up to the lads to buy into the experience they have around them at this club.

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“It’s a game they need to handle mentally. It will be in the front of their minds, their parents’ minds, all their mates will be talking about coming down to watch them.

“They’ve just got to remember – let that deal with itself, let parents and friends deal with coming to the game, you just concentrate on what you’re going to do in that 90 minutes, play the best your ability lets you do.”

And there is FA Cup experience within the squad with a number of the second years having faced Fleetwood at the same stage last term.

“I think last year, speaking to some of the second years, they felt like the night bypassed them, without really grasping an opportunity,” he explained. “When you speak to some of them now, they want to put on a better display personally and as a team.

“They’ll have a better idea of how to handle the occasion. Because we normally play in the morning, it’s not just the occasion, it’s sitting around, waiting, controlling nerves throughout the day. When you’re playing at night there’s a whole day, all those emotions that you’ve got to handle as well. 

“The good thing is that where some of lads have come into the reserves recently they’ve handled the occasion quite well.

“They’ve got to set the standards as soon as they come into the building tomorrow, they’ve got to be calm, go about the job in a professional way, and make sure the first years who’ve not been in this situation, or played in the reserves, look to them and see they’re nice and calm, and can be calm as well, handle the occasion.

“Just go out and play your game. At the end of the day it’s a game of football. It’s the FA Youth Cup but it’s just another game of football. The emotions that go round it, they’ve got to learn to handle. Hopefully we can get that through to them.”

A wonderful back story to the night is the close association that Dave Wilkes had with both clubs, having served with both through his long and rewarding career.

“Everybody knows the connection with both clubs for Dave and it probably couldn’t have worked out any better,” he said.

“when the draw was made, it was the first thing we all thought of. With Wilkesy, and his connection with both clubs, these things happen not just in the Youth Cup but the FA Cup, these emotional attachments.

“It’s unbelievable how these things happen in football. It’s a tribute to Dave as well that two teams close to him at youth level are going to be battling it out at Brunton Park. All we hope is we can put on a good performance that does justice to the occasion.

“Dave’s played a big part since I’ve been up here for close to 20 years. He was always a constant, and I think everybody still misses him.

“What an occasion – two teams who were the closest to his heart are playing each other at Brunton Park, under the lights, it’s the FA Youth Cup, I think that’s great to be honest.”


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