WEST Cork Schoolboys League club Drinagh Rangers are developing their next generation of footballers inside a thriving underage academy.
Canon Crowley Park has remained a hive of activity in recent weeks despite the pandemic that has caused the cessation of all schoolboys league activity.
Catering for numerous age-grades, boys and girls aged between 10 to 16 years of age are being put through their paces by a dedicated Drinagh Rangers coaching staff in a safe environment.
Don Hurley has had a busy season as co-manager of Rangers’ adult (male) squad as well one of the club’s U11 coaches. A former West Cork Schoolboys League fixtures secretary and West Cork League committee member, Hurley knows better than most what it takes to keep a club’s academy ticking over until league action returns.
‘A lot of our younger age-groups operate in a winter outdoor astro/indoor futsal season and had been back training just before the second lockdown,’ Hurley explained.
‘Those would be the youngest of Drinagh’s academy squads, up to and including U10. Training was non-contact so they were able to keep going in a safe manner and started in October. Those sessions involved non-contact training, a bit of shooting practice and various passing drills whilst operating in small pods (groups).
‘It was great that our U14 schoolgirls squad were also able to keep going even though there is no current West Cork Schoolgirls League for them to play in. We have huge numbers involved with that particular group of girls, which is great to see, and they have kept training going every Thursday night.
‘Our older underage squads, the ones who have been competing at schoolboys’ league and cup level since July, have probably been most affected with the schoolboys league competitions having to be postponed.
‘Since August, a lot of the U11 to U16 schoolboys groups would have been on a break. We decided to give those squads a bit of a break when the lockdown first kicked in. I am back with the U11s over the last couple of weeks now and the other age-groups are back too, doing a little bit here and there, depending on the weather conditions.
‘It is a case of the Drinagh Rangers club just doing whatever we can to give all of our young players a run out. Getting some fresh air and being out on a pitch for a training session is important for children at the moment.’
Drinagh’s dedicated work at academy level has had a positive effect this season. All WCSL Cup competitions were completed last August where the club’s youngest (competitive) squad reached the last four of the U11 Cup.
Rangers’ U12’s and U16’s each got to the semi-finals of their respective competitions while the Canon Crowley Park’s U13’s were unlucky to miss out on the knockout stages of their age-grade’s cup. Encouragingly, Drinagh’s U14s won the 2020 U14 Cup and their U15s added another knockout trophy thanks to a 4-0 defeat of Bunratty United.
The WCSL (league) divisions were nearing the play-off stages when a second lockdown came into effect,’ Hurley said.
‘It was disappointing that the West Cork Schoolboys League didn’t get the chance to finish off their leagues after doing so well to complete this year’s cups. Public health comes first. It is a shame for the players involved that the leagues weren’t able to continue but they couldn’t under the (previous) lockdown rules and that was completely understandable. Hopefully, we can get back to some normality next year and matches can get going once again.’
Creditably, many of Drinagh’s junior adult players, both past and present, are part of the club’s underage coaching structure. Dealing with a large number of schoolchildren requires recruiting as many coaches as possible.
‘Every West Cork League club struggle when it comes to getting enough people in as coaches every year,’ Hurley said.
‘You are aiming to have two or even three coaches per group but that’s not an easy thing to achieve at the best of times. The WCSL added U13 and U15 age-grades a couple of years ago which meant Drinagh had to recruit a new set of coaches. Thankfully, we managed to do that before another age-grade, U11, was added this past season.
‘Drinagh are always looking for new coaches despite being lucky to have just enough people for each of the underage teams we currently cater for. There are also two junior (male) adult teams, a junior women’s squad and U19 setups to look after.
‘Again, we (Drinagh) are lucky in that some of the adult players have stepped up and helped out with our underage teams. Like everyone else, we would love to get more people involved because, no matter how many are already there, you can never have enough coaches in your club.’
Their Canon Crowley Park home ground is another major factor in Drinagh Rangers success at underage level.
‘Thankfully, Drinagh Rangers has a fantastic facility in Canon Crowley Park which allows us to run our academy training sessions and keep the underage section of our club functioning despite not having any matches to play,’ Don Hurley noted.
‘It is important that we keep going as sport plays such a vital part in our lives. We need to get back playing competitive matches as soon as possible though. West Cork League and schoolboys league players, coaches and supporters are missing out on a hugely important part of their lives.
‘Sport gives young people a chance to express themselves, so getting back involved in matches is crucial to their well-being. The pandemic has meant people spending less time outside taking part in physical activity. That is not a good thing so the sooner we are back to full-contact training and competitive matches the better.’