BY KIERAN McCARTHY
CONNOR Ellis hopes young footballers in West Cork will take encouragement from his ongoing rise through the ranks.
The former West Cork Schoolboys’ League starlet signed his first professional contract with Cork City last week, having learned his trade locally with Bantry Bay Rovers before moving to Lakewood Athletic, then to CSL side Leeds and then onto Cork City one year later.
Now, in his third season with the club, the 19-year-old striker – prolific with Cork City U19s these past few seasons – has signed his first pro contract and will be sent out on loan, to a First Division club, for the remainder of the season to gain experience.
Guest of honour at the West Cork Schoolboys’ League Awards night, sponsored by The Southern Star, at the Celtic Ross Hotel, Ellis spoke to a room full of the league’s brightest talents, encouraging them to work hard and follow the path he has.
‘I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for the West Cork Schoolboys League. I genuinely mean that,’ Ellis told The Southern Star.
‘Right from Danny Peters with Bantry Bay Rovers, to the West Cork programme with Ray (Claffey), Dan (McCarthy) and Zoran (Teodorovic), there is a great structure in place and great people working hard, like Martin Henwood, too. It wasn’t any surprise this year to see the West Cork team do so well in the Kennedy Cup; they were seeded 30th and finished 11th, that’s 19 places better than they should have done.
‘I owe a lot to the coaches in West Cork. I have a long way to go, hopefully I can have a successful career and I can look back in a few years time and know that it was these coaches that set me on my way.’
Ellis added: ‘There’s great talent here, the structure of the league is progressing, the facilities are improving, the level of coaching is getting better and the work being done is fantastic. There’s no reason other kids from West Cork can’t follow the path I have taken and it shows that players from West Cork can make it; you don’t have to be from the city.’
Ellis sat his Leaving Certificate exams at Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí last month and he is very grateful to the support given to him by Caulfield and Cork City. Caulfield is a big believer in young players gaining their education and his wise words have certainly rubbed off on Ellis.
‘I can’t stress how important it is to get an education behind you. Young players need to sit their Leaving Cert exams; it’s not something that you have to carry around or hold in your pocket, but it’s something you have that can help you progress outside of football. I have seen lads go across to Manchester United and Liverpool and come back, and I’m now in a better position because I’ve sat my Leaving Cert and I have that education to fall back on,’ the West Cork teenager explained.
‘John told me at the start of the season that he wanted me to take my Leaving Cert seriously, to take time off for study and concentrate on my school work; he really did push me on and encourage me to put education first this year. The club has been fantastic.’
Enniskeane-based Caulfield has been an instrumental figure in Ellis’s continued development through the ranks at Cork City, having signed for the club when he was 16 years old. Ellis now wants to repay the faith shown in him by the City boss.
‘I know I have a long way to go to get my next contract but there is nothing better than a bit of security and to know that the manager rates me; he has shown me that there’s a plan in place for me to progress and work my way into the team. When you are happy and you have faith in the manager, you are willing to repay it as much as you can,’ Ellis said.
‘John has been great for me since I started with the club, he has really helped me to progress and hopefully I can repay him by working hard, getting onto the team and scoring a few goals.’
The next stage of his development will see Ellis sent out on loan to a First Division club for the rest of the season, instead of playing with City’s U19s.
‘The aim is to play now in games, to go up against seasoned campaigners and get used to the pace of the game at this level. I need to prove myself and get ready for next season,’ he explained.
‘I will be going up against defenders who have been playing professionally for 10 or 15 years so while I might have the technical ability, I need to build up physically and I need to get game-time experience. I’m only learning my trade so I’ve a long way to go to get to the top.
‘I need to train hard, work hard, keeping working in the gym to build-up so I’m in a good position for pre-season next year and able to break into John’s plans.’
On the international front, the Republic of Ireland U19s didn’t qualify for the European Championships and next season Ellis makes the step up to the U21 grade.