Dundalk Youth team manager Alan Browne has expressed his delight at Ciaran O’Connor’s progress to the first-team squad at Oriel Park.
‘Gazza’ signed a professional contract at the club on July 1 after hitting 16 goals for the club’s U18 team last season.
The youngster was honoured with the Youth team Top Goalscorer award at a presentation function prior to last Friday night’s game with Bohemians.
And Browne said that if the 17-year-old can repeat his performances from last season, then it will not be long before he is pushing for a place in Stephen Kenny’s first-team.
“Ciaran came in at 16 and he progressed rapidly with the Youths”, said Browne. “That’s probably the reason why he was selected to go into the first-team squad. He is playing some great stuff and you feel it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance.”
While the first-team approach the final third of their season, Browne is currently starting the preparations for the Youths’ upcoming DDSL campaign which begins in September.
“It’s basically a revamp again”, he said. “We’ll be building a squad from new and we had trials last Wednesday. 46 lads came in and we cut that down for Saturday. We’ll cut it down again next week and then it’s time to start the ball rolling with friendlies.”
Browne’s new batch will be predominantly made up of young players who can stay with the Youths for two seasons before progressing to the club’s U19 squad.
“I think thats the way to look at it”, said Browne. “I don’t think there is any use in having an U18 squad full of ‘U18s’ who only have one year with us before they progress.
“Going from what I’ve seen in the trials, it will be a very young team but I don’t mind that because some of the fellas I have seen have impressed me already and they are very young.
“We need to get them in as early as possible”, he added. “If we could get them younger, even better, but at the minute we get them in for a two-year stint to give them as much a chance as possible.”
The former junior football star is approaching his third season as Youths manager and he said he is enjoying the experience, despite the demands of the job.
“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it all year round but I always love the break at the end of the season”, said Browne with a smile.
“It is a long season. Depending on how well you do in cup competitions you could either finish in May or the end of June.
“For us as coaches, to see the lads win a trophy and then when you see the likes of Gazza getting through to the first-team and the likes of Paul Finnegan on the fringes of the first-team, it makes it all worthwhile.
“To be fair to Stephen Kenny, he has his eyes open and anybody that has been doing well for the youths will get a chance. If the boys arrive in when the first-team is training he knows their names. His whole presence is second to none.”