Wednesday happy with year one of development programme
The Sheffield Wednesday Development Centre in Wexford moved into its second season with a launch night in the Riverside Hotel, Enniscorthy recently following a hugely successful first year in existence.
Over for the special occasion were two representatives of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club: Marcus Brameld, Community Manager, and John Williams, head of Education and Coach Development.
The centre, which is based out of Bree United's club grounds, brings together some of the most talented young soccer players in the county and gives them a chance to receive quality training from qualified coaches operating a professional curriculum approved by the English championship club.
Aileen Whelan, local business woman and manager with Bree United's Under-14s, is the co-ordinator of the project at present but was also one of the key people in bringing this opportunity to the youngsters of Wexford.
'I met Aileen about 15 months ago. She walked into the training ground, she said she had a group of kids that would like to play football, we got talking and we developed it from there,' remembers Marcus Brameld of his first meeting with the persuasive Whelan.
Of the initial idea, the Sheffield Wednesday representative says: 'We decided we would run a camp in the summer of 2014,' and it went so well that things moved further along.
'We decided to set up the development centre with the idea of coaching the kids, improving them, obviously also with their social skills and with making new friends.
'We're also giving them the opportunity to come over to Sheffield Wednesday as well. From our point of view it's an opportunity to see players that we probably wouldn't be able to scout. It's a great way to look at players, and see if we can got some over for trials in the near future.'
The players involved with the centre in its first season went to Sheffield earlier in the year and competed in friendlies with local teams, as well as visiting Hillsborough for a game. Four of those Wexford lads were invited to train with the Sheffield Wednesday academy and the club is keeping an eye on their development.
'Overall it was just a fantastic trip,' says Brameld. 'It couldn't have gone any better. We welcome them again over next year. It's a chance for the kids to get six months' worth of coaching now and an opportunity to showcase what they can do when they are over there. It only takes one scout to say "I like that child, let's get him in" and it happens like that.'
Preparing them for that opportunity in the next six months will be ex-Stoke City player Aaron Callaghan, local athletic trainer with Menapians A.C. Jimmy O'Neill, and local qualified football coach 'Tucker' O'Brien.
'It's been exceptional,' explains Dublin native Callaghan. 'We've had something like 25 sessions since we took over. We have a really good curriculum in terms of the Sheffield Wednesday curriculum to follow.
'We play a lot of small-sided games in order for the kids to get more touches, better touches on the ball, and those small-sided games also help them make decisions quicker, which helps them in terms of their team games.
'The football actions in terms of attacking, you've got dribbling, close control, pass, all of those techniques have improved. On a weekly basis you can see them improve because they are practising them week in, week out, not just from the development academy, the other sports they are playing and other outside work that they are doing is also helping them.'
Working side-by-side with Callaghan is 'Tucker' O'Brien. The Wexford man is no stranger to working with the youth of the county on a soccer field and he is looking for steady improvement from the group that is coming back for a second year.
'I am a great believer in "if it's not broke, don't fix it". We might tweak a few little things in the development of what we are going to do, maybe from the three v. three, the lads last year were eleven, twelve, thirteen, now they have gone up a year, so we might tweak it a little bit, make it a little harder for them.
'Maybe Jimmy's (O'Neill) going to work a bit harder with the running, the movement, their balance, the technical aspect of it so we will be progressing. Every year it's a small progression, not too heavy because kids need to understand what they are doing as well.
'We are going over again in April. We have been invited over to play in a tournament over there. We are playing against Sheffield Wednesday's academy in Italy, in Malta and their own English academy.
'We are going to be playing a round-robin tournament. We are bringing the younger group to play two or three friendlies over there too and I think it's going to be a great experience for kids,' explains O'Brien.
From her role as organiser, Aileen Whelan is enthusiastic about what has been achieved in such a shot space of time but she is keen to direct the kudos away from herself to the lads who are out on the pitch giving their time.
'Tucker (O'Brien) needs a special 'thank you'. Really and truly, it wouldn't be happening without him, and Jimmy O'Neill as well, because the bottom line is, they're the guys putting in the work, they are the ones that do all the hard work.
'Aaron Callaghan, he brings that little bit of professionalism into it and kind of keeps everybody grounded. He gives great insight of what it's like to be a player too,' says Whelan.
So with all the components in place, the immediate term goal is for everyone to develop and enjoy their time in the development centre but there is obviously a long-term goal that might still be a few years off.
Brameld explains: 'For us to invest our time and effort into this we'd like to see...it's only the second year of doing it and the youngsters are only 12-13, maybe it might take two or three years down the line for us to see a player come over who actually gets signed or something along those lines'.