DUNDALK Youths manager Alan Browne feels that the Lilywhites’ DDSL U18 Super League title win was just rewards for the dedication and effort put in by the players and management throughout a gruelling season.
The 3-2 victory over St Kevin’s Boys on June 10 was enough to secure the Youths their second DDSL title in three years and, in doing so, bringing the curtain down on a campaign which began almost 10 months ago.
“It was a big commitment”, said Browne. “We all put the work in but it paid off. We started training in August last year but our first game didn’t come up until the first week in September. It went on this long due to four or five teams doing well in cup competitions so it has been a long season.
“The most important thing all season has been the morale and mood of the squad. We have great characters in the dressing room and they are all good lads and from day one, everybody involved at the club has been great to us.
“We’re there to try and get players to the next stage, that’s the priority, but to win something at the end of the season makes it really worthwhile for everybody involved”.
As well as winning the league title, the Youths were also semi-finalists in the Leinster Youth Cup and beaten finalists in the DDSL Ferrari Cup final, a remarkable feat considering Browne had to mould a brand new team together.
“We only had Kurt Murphy left from last year”, said Browne. “I kind of knew some of the lads coming through from the Schoolboys League so we had a rough idea of what we would have to work with.
“We signed 20 at the start of the season and after pre-season we knew what they were about. With injuries and whatever we were down to 14 or 15 some weeks. We lost one or two to gaelic during the season but they came back near the end so we were always working off that panel of 14 or 15.”
Browne also had to contend with losing members of his squad if they were promoted up to the U19 side or in Ben McLaughlin and Bob McKenna’s case, the first-team squad. He said it was a nice problem to have.
“That’s always been the case since I went in. If any of the youth team lads were heavily involved with the U19s, or before that the U20s, on a Saturday they would not be available to us on a Sunday morning. That’s why we signed the 20 at the start, we knew this could be a possibility and we wanted to have a squad to fall back on.
“We lost Ben halfway through the season and didn’t really get him back because of the way he played with the older aged sides. He went to the U19s and when he got the chance to get into the first-team he took it and he has done really well.
“Bob has been in and out. He was signed for the U19s and it was only after he got here that I realised he was young enough for the U18s.”
Needless to say, Browne was quick to make enquiries about getting him to play with the Youths.
“There was a slot there for him and we wanted him in”, he laughed. “He’s a class act. He’s clinical in and around the box. Give him a half chance and he’ll find the back of the net.
“There will be a lot expected on him because of his goalscoring record. He is still only a kid but his attitude is great and he is so mature around the dressing room. In that sense he is ready for the first-team but football wise he still needs time. Don’t be rushing him”.
Browne was also quick to praise other members of his title wining squad.
“Everyone of them played their part”, he said. “Obviously Ben and Bob will get all the plaudits because of their progress and Ryan Duffy has been rewarded for a great season by being called in to train with the first-team recently. I think ‘Giggsy’ has really come on and he is one that you would look at and see potential in.”
The Youths started the season well, winning 3-2 away to Drogheda United but it was a performance on November 27 against Bohemians at Oriel Park that made Browne aware of the talent he had at his disposal.
“As a team we improved over the season. Halfway through I thought we had a real chance of winning something but the Bohs game is one that really stood out for me. We beat them 7-3 at home and it was one of Bob McKenna’s first games. Performance wise it was one of the best. We played really well in the run in also, the last four games were the best football we played all season.”
The precarious stage of Dundalk’s finances mean that the prospect of not having any under-age sides next season cannot be ruled out.
However Browne, echoing comments made by Head of Youth Development Martin Connolly, is hoping that they can continue to build on the progress made over the past four years.
“There is great talent all over Dundalk. The Schoolboys League has done a great job bringing lads through and the set-up we have at Oriel Park is great. The coaching is fantastic, you only have to look at the results of the teams for that - so it would be a shame if it was to fall by the wayside.
“In the case of our team, we bring players in at 16 or 17 to play in the U18 DDSL with the Youths. It’s a great stepping stone for them, going from Schoolboys League into U18 football. If that step was missing, then it’s an awful jump to go from Schoolboys to U19 level.
“The other thing is that the chances are there now for players. If players are progressing from Youth football to U19 football to a certain stage then they won’t be a million miles away from the first-team.”
If the club do give the green light to the underage set-up, Browne would be more than happy to stay at the helm.
“I’m looking forward to the next phase coming through. I first got involved with coaching through the Schoolboys League representative teams and then I came to the Youths. It’s great because you can see how much it means to the lads when they get selected to play for the Youths and the pride they have wearing a Dundalk shirt.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and on behalf of myself, David Fairclough and Jason McConville, I want to thank everyone at the club, from the office staff to the groundsmen to the players, staff and supporters.
“A special word of thanks must also go to the parents who travelled home and away with us all season. McGeough’s Off-sales in Jonesborough and the Avenue Inn also deserve a special mention for contributing sponsorship. It has been a great season”.