Dundalk FC are set to formally announce an alliance with the Dundalk Schoolboys League which will allow the club to work with the best young players in the local area from the age 10 and up.
The plan is for an ‘academy’ style programme to be put in place. Players will still represent their clubs but Dundalk FC will work with the Schoolboys League to select, coach and manage the league’s representative teams at each age group from U11 to U16.
“I think it’s a brilliant initiative. It ticks a box for Dundalk FC in that we get to work with the best young players in town and we’ve already been working with the U11, U12 and U13 teams from last September,” said Dundalk FC Head of Youth Development, Martin Connolly.
“We want young players to feel that they have an association with the club from a young age. You can see, with things like the free U12 season tickets and the kids at games, that the club are targeting younger people.
“This is just another arm of that and we feel it will compliment the great work that the clubs in town are doing with young players.”
As well as trying to identify the best players in the region, Connolly said both parties were also keen to secure the best coaches around to help implement the project. Connolly, along with Dundalk FC Community and Schools Officer, Liam Burns and Glenmuir FC’s Gary Rogers are already in place but the club and league are keen to recruit more young talent.
“We’re looking for high calibre coaches who want to take part in the coach education scheme and who want to do their coaching badges. If you are going to run an academy then you have to have people who are fully qualified, who are Garda vetted and things like that. That’s the only way players will benefit.”
The initiative means that there is now a complete pathway for a young player to progress from his schoolboys club through to the Dundalk FC first team. The local league has been hit in recent years by a number of youngsters opting to ply their trade in the Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL) but Connolly is hoping that might reverse that trend.
“Dundalk FC has never advised, and will never advise, players to go and play in Dublin. That’s up to the parents of players,” he said.
“What we will try and do is show that the Dundalk Schoolboys League has a direct link with Dundalk FC now.”
It is an exciting time for youth development at the club. The co-operation programme with the Dundalk Schoolboys League comes hot on the heels of the Malahide United link up while the scholarship programme the club have in place with DkIT is about to enter its second year.
As well as overseeing the youth side of things, Connolly also fulfils the General Manager role at Oriel Park and he said that his new position has enabled him to push through those programmes.
“I’m still learning business aspects of the job but because I have been involved in the youth side of things for the past seven or eight years, I had a plan of what I wanted to do.
“It’s easier to do that as General Manager than it is as the Head of Youth Development because it has to go through various stages between the two positions. Because I’m doing the two roles, I can initiate something and push it through that little bit quicker.
“What we need to do, I feel, is widen our net and become more accessible for young players. Instead of our young players going to Dublin, we want players to want to come and play League of Ireland with Dundalk.
“We’re working off two or three different strands now; the Malahide link up, the Dundalk Schoolboys League. It’s where we want to be at.”