Tuesday, December 23, 2008 by Paul Grech
Home Farm. The name of the amateur Irish side (that has sadly fallen on to troubled times) can still elicit wonderful memories partly due to the idyllic sounding name but largely because, as a kid, my sticker album used to inform me that it was the club that sold Ronnie Whelan to Liverpool.
Whelan, you see, was one of my favourite players back then: I’ve always been a fan of the hardworking midfielder type. That someone so good could have been bought for so little before anyone really had a chance to notice him seemed fantastical to me.
Which, thinking about it, it is. Can you any one of the big four signing a player from outside the top-flight – let alone an amateur one – and give him an opportunity after a couple of years? Of course not because modern clubs act in a different manner, they try to get to the player before they’re even out of their early teens.
There are a number of reasons for this but perhaps the most plausible relate to coaching – it is easier to mould a player into a better one if you get to him from an early age – and to finances as a player is likely to cost much more if he’s already established at a lower club.
There is, however, a further snag in the form of academy regulations that stipulate that players must be from within a certain distance from the club. Something that has forced clubs into exploring various creative ways of getting the players that they want but which may not be from the ‘right’ area.
Which perhaps explains Liverpool’s academy’s latest venture, a partnership with Irish youth side St. Kevins Boys Football Club. If that name means nothing to you – and to be honest neither did it to me up till a couple of weeks back – then you should look at some of its most famous exports that include Liam Brady, Damian Duff, Ian Harte, Stephen Carr and Alan Maybury. Last season, the club’s under-15 Premier team contained no fewer than ten Schoolboy Internationals seven of whom are now playing for professional Clubs in England and Scotland.
“Liverpool approached St Kevins in August 2008 with a view to forming a coaching and development link with us,” Ken Donohoe, the football director at St Kevins, explains. “They have researched quite a number of prominent Clubs in the Republic of Ireland and they ultimately felt that St Kevins fulfilled all their requirements.”
“Discussions began at the end of August and concluded towards the end of September when a points of principle document was produced to the satisfaction of both clubs.”
“Liverpool will send teams of coaches over to St Kevins Boys on a regular basis throughout the season and selective St Kevins Coaches will travel to Liverpool to be involved in coaching there as well as taking part in Liverpool in-house coaching days.”
“St Kevins will host a soccer school which Liverpool will underwrite both financially and by supplying a team of coaches in July 2009.”
While the benefits for St Kevins are apparent, you have to dig deeper to find out what’s in it for Liverpool. “Players from the Republic of Ireland that Liverpool might be interested in would be encouraged to sign for St Kevins Boys where they would come under the supervision of our club coach Alan Caffrey who works to a programme with our best players similar to what players of the same age are doing at Liverpool. “ In other words, Liverpool will have a mini-academy in Ireland through which they can channel the more talented players to the club.
“ Obviously, being associated with Liverpool F C will have an enormous PR effect for St Kevins Boys as Liverpool are one of the most popular clubs with young players in the Republic of Ireland so obviously some of the better ones might be attracted to us because of this,” Donohoe continues. “In Liverpool’s case they now have a base to which they can encourage prospective players to come to where they will be guaranteed the best facilities and coaching available to them outside of the Liverpool Academy itself.”
Already, this November Liverpool sent out a team of coaches that included Mike Geraghty, Darren Hughes, Callum Walshe and Tony Elliott along with Stuart Gelling head of Community / Academy coaching at Liverpool F C.
“All our coaches were invited to attend the sessions on both days which was held in one of our satellite training centres at the College of Surgeons Sports Grounds at Dublin Airport. After the Saturday session Stuart Gelling delivered an address to our members on the structures of Liverpool F C Academy. All reports suggest that these two days were very successful.”
Whilst this might be an innovative experiment as far as Liverpool are concerned, it isn’t the first such partnership that St Kevins have set up.
“We had a very, very successful partnership with West Bromwich Albion from 2004 till 2008. Obviously we have had to officially terminate that link but we have formed very good solid personal and professional relationships with senior staff and we will continue to have some contact with them as very few of our players would be of the high class caliber that Liverpool might seek.”
It will be some time before we’ll know whether this partnership does produce any such ‘high class’ players because, as with any youth venture, it takes a long term view. “It takes time for partnerships such as this to develop to the point where a high degree of trust and understanding of each side’s needs is recognized and hopefully that some of our players in the future might be good enough to sign for Liverpool” Donohoe admits.
But at least it ensures that if there is another Ronnie Whelan out there then Liverpool are better placed to find him.
Interested in Liverpool's academy? Have you read our piece on its latest graduate Martin Kelly? If not, you can do so here or else read through our regular feature on reserve team players, The Lad Can Play.