Connolly’s ambitious plans

GMCL: A new season for the first team also means a new season for the teams below that grade. What is the structure below the first-team like this year?

GMCL: A new season for the first team also means a new season for the teams below that grade. What is the structure below the first-team like this year?

MC: It is slightly different. The FAI have instructed us that this is the last year of the A-Championship Reserve League as it is. Last year we had an Under-20 team and the A team running in conjunction with each other but we are led to believe that the A team will start their season at the end of March, beginning of April to coincide with the first team and in August or September an Under-19 14 Team League of Ireland will also start. Next year there will be no A-Championship Reserve League.

How that will work I don’t know. If you look at Shamrock Rovers, who could nearly field three teams, how are they going to give players games and keep people fresh. I don’t know the wisdom behind it. We’ll have to see what way it pans out.

The thing that stands out almost immediately is that the Under-19 League won’t run parallel with the League of Ireland season.

That’s it. I don’t understand it. If you asked anybody who was part of the Under-20 League in recent years they will tell you that the standard of football was excellent and the players enjoyed playing in it. It was competitive and if you look at some of the teams in the First Division and even at the likes of Bohemians and Drogheda United, most of their squad will be made up of those Under-20 players.

How is an Under-19 League going to go when it runs at a completely different time of the year? The big problem we are going to have is player burnout. They will simply be playing and training too much. You could have a young player of 19 who begins his pre-season in July and if he develops into a first-team player in that time he might not be finished his season until the following November. It is something that really needs to be looked at carefully by the FAI.

What will now happen to a player who is 20 or 21 and can’t break into the first team?

He’s going to have to go and play junior football. That’s all there is. That’s why I can’t see how this is going to work.

What is the schedule for this year’s A-Championship Reserve League like? Last year you had trips to Salthill and Castlebar which cost the club a huge amount of money.

We don’t know yet. The FAI haven’t set out the fixtures. I’ve stepped away from the A-team this year. Darius Kearns will be looking after it in his role as assistant manager but they haven’t given us the fixtures. I seen recently that Waterford have an A team this year. Knowing the fixtures we have been given in the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on it.

You say you’ve stepped back from the A team. What will you be concentrating on this year?

Last year I was doing my A License and managing the A team, the Under-20s and also helping Ian Foster and Wayne Hatswell out with the senior team. It was just too much. I have a life outside the football club so when Darius came in I was quite happy to step back. Darius comes from a youth development background as well so I was quite happy knowing that that would continue.

With the new pitches ready to go down in the Youth Development Centre this month I would hope to have an input with what goes on there and I would very much like to be involved with the Under-19 team when it starts. I’m hoping also to spend some more time with the Under-17s and to work even more closely with the Dundalk Schoolboys League and the clubs and schools in the local area.

I spoke to Gerry Matthews about the Youth Development Centre recently and he outlined his financial hopes for the Centre. From a coaching point of view what are the plans going forward?

Well I would hope that if even half of our ideas for the Youth Development centre come to fruition we will have a great project on our hands. We are hoping to get StatSports on board. Alan Clarke is a good friend of mine and we are trying to get them set up with an office or laboratory for them in the centre. Sports Science is an important area we would like to tap into and we are close to doing a deal with Alan and his company.

We have spoken to a number of English clubs about them using the facilities and availing of StatSports. A club may want to take a look at 20 players aged 13-14 from around the country and they could come here for a training weekend. I’ve spoken to Everton recently and they are very interested. When you are dealing with top clubs the discussions have to take place over a period of time but its something we are definitely looking into. All you can do is try and follow these things as far as you can but I have been very encouraged by the response from some major clubs. They have promised to send people over and look at the Centre when it is set up.

So ideally you would like to make Oriel Park a central hub for English clubs to set up base.

Yes. English clubs are setting up academies in South Africa and the middle east. All you have to do is look at a couple of weeks ago where Liverpool opened up an academy in Jordanstown. To me, we are located geographically better than anywhere in the country. We are right in between Dublin and Belfast and we have a train station just two minutes away. When clubs hear these factors they want more meetings. We should be looking into it. If may be pie in the sky to some people but we have to explore these ideas.

The club are looking to appoint a Community Coach. I presume you will be working in tandem with whoever takes the role?

We’ll be looking at different ideas. If we had two or three A license or B license coaches here then why shouldn’t we be going out to Schoolboys League clubs who have none to coach the coaches and give them ideas? Ultimately it will make their players better and everybody will benefit from that. I’m a great believer in sharing knowledge. Twenty years ago people would be hiding what they had, keeping it for themselves but if we are sending people on courses, it should not be just Dundalk FC that benefits from it, it should be the whole footballing community in the town.

One of your main objectives has always been to strengthen your links with the Schoolboys League. Initiatives like that will only help.

Definitely. I speak to Larry Gorham, the Secretary of the League every week and we share a lot of ideas. It was a thing that I feel this club struggled with in the past and I can understand the way the Schoolboys League used to resist some of the ideas the club suggested to them. I think we may have got off to a bad start. The first thing we had to do was get the Schoolboys League to trust Dundalk FC and I think they do that. I’ve managed one of their teams in the Milk Cup and in the Kennedy Cup in the past. Last year we took their Under-16 team to the George Best Cup in Belfast and it is something we will be looking at doing again this year.

The problem we have is finances. Last year I think it cost 600 Euro per player for the Milk Cup. That’s an awful lot and whether anybody can sustain that remains to be seen. You don’t want to be sending kids home asking for that kind of money to play in a tournament.

The club did a lot of good PR work with the recent friendlies against Rock Celtic and Muirhevnamor.

That was brilliant. To be fair, Dundalk FC are benefiting from getting the likes of Johnny Breen, Nathan Murphy and Marc Griffin. It was volunteers from Rock Celtic, St Dominic’s and Muirhevnamor who helped get those players to where they are today. Hopefully we can bring them on. I don’t think anybody at this club would argue about the compensation scheme. It’s only right that those three clubs got some reward for their hard work.

Those three have made the step up. Who do you see capable of breaking through from the current youth set-up?

Well Glen Trainor played against Rock Celtic and did quite well. Stephen Hutchison did well also and we have the likes of Gerry McSorley, who is just coming back after injury with the Under-17s, who has potential. With the rule change in the age groups, it means that the bulk of last year’s Milk Cup squad will make up next year’s Under-17 squad. That will bring the likes of Cian Doyle and Ben McLaughlin, really good players, to the club so you would be very hopeful of seeing a few more break into the first team in the next few years.

Alan Browne has come in to the set up alongside Raymond Trimble this year. Alan, of course, was the manager of the team who went to the George Best Cup last year.

It’s something we like to do, bringing young, enthusiastic coaches who are locally based to the club. Raymond has agreed to help out Darius with the A team and we ideally want to keep local, young coaches involved with these teams.

Finally Martin, when you look at the current state of the League of Ireland and think of what has happened at Sporting Fingal, at Drogheda and at Bohemians, what do you feel, as a Head of Youth Development, is the way forward for the league?

I think the system we are following is wrong. Anybody who had any knowledge of League of Ireland football could have told you that Sporting Fingal would not survive.

For this league to progress and survive? Well I would side with the likes of Pete Mahon and John Gill who say that a full-time professional league is not going to work. I would like to see a very well run part time set up. I think because of what has happened, a lot of younger players will get more opportunities. They might not make a lot of money out of it but they will get a chance.

Does the league need to introduce something radical? Like a quota of young players to be part of the match-day squad for example?

I’d be in favour of that. The League of Ireland should have a system where seven or eight have come through your system or are locally based. It would be a starter. The days of clubs paying players 2,000 Euro a week are long over.