Irish FA’s Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton wants to ensure Northern Ireland’s top talented young footballers have the best chance to make their dreams come true.
Magilton, who played for Southampton and Ipswich Town at the highest level, feels the current young players are getting more ‘tuned in’ towards what it takes to try and make it across the water.
He also believes that Club NI, a new concept for football in this country, can give local lads a better chance of succeeding across the water and ultimately becoming senior Northern Ireland stars
“What we have attempted to do is increase the contact time in Northern Ireland based around two centres. One in central Cookstown and one in Jordanstown at the Institute of Sport,” he said.
“The Institute of Sport is especially for our 15 and 16 year-olds, they help with their strength and conditioning programme, so that’s one of the reasons why we managed to secure that and since 2014 onward these boys have been there and we have had 42 players sign professional contracts.
“We have developed a programme now which goes as far down as 10-year-old’s and they go into four region centres, we are using Scroggy Road and St Columb’s College for the North, we use Omagh Leisure for the West, Lurgan Town in the South and we use Crumlin for the East.
What we have to recognise two nights a week isn’t going to support a life in professional football and we are all obviously aware of that but in collaboration with our clubs we are trying to adopt a programme that allows these kids to not only train with their association but to also train with a clubJim Magilton
“Those young camps train two nights a week, Tuesday and Thursday again with our Regional Head Coaches and assistants, and physiotherapists.
“What we have to recognise two nights a week isn’t going to support a life in professional football and we are all obviously aware of that but in collaboration with our clubs we are trying to adopt a programme that allows these kids to not only train with their association but to also train with a club.
“All players are registered for their clubs and play for their clubs on a Friday or a Saturday, we bring in the older groups in on a Sunday as part of a rehab programme and also give them an insight into how they should cool down after games and give them recovery strategies.
“The kids all get physiotherapy treatment if they are injured and we can also give them a guide on how to recover from an injury, but the collaboration with the clubs are very important to this.”
The ex-QPR manager also believes that Irish League clubs will play their part in any success.
In fact, in recent years the likes of ex-Clifonville men Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce to name but two have made that move across the water, while young players like Crusaders’ Gavin Whyte, Linfield’s Paul Smyth and Glenavon’s Joel Cooper have shone in recent season.
In fact Smyth and Cooper were brought out to train with Michael O’Neill’s Euro 2016 squad in France, an experience which will boost their prospects.
“Our Irish Premier League clubs are implementing a youth programme and that has developed over the last few years and immense credit has to go to those clubs who are adopting a youth policy and we recognise that there’s an awful lot of hard work being down.
“A lot of that work is on a voluntary base and we have recognised that they are doing there very, very best that they can but again we are just trying to cherry pick the best players, get them all together on a more frequent basis and then develop them through a games programme, which again has been developed over many years.”
Magilton, who with the likes of ex-Institute manager Pascal Vaudequin and former Derry City gaffer Declan Devine attended both the Foyle Cup and the Super Cup NI competitions, feels that the top players start to get a taste of what is expected with a top flight cross channel club.
“The younger age groups have travelled as far as Qatar, Berlin, Spain and Greece and the older boys have an international calendar which again in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Schools FA has been great,” he added.
“For an example a player who becomes a Schoolboy International will play up to 20 or 30 international games prior to leaving for a club in England, if they manage to sign a professional contract, so the Games Programme is pretty extensive now.
“We have noticed and seen a huge improvement in all aspects and given the boys an insight into different countries, different cultures, different systems and allowed them to see qualities of young players of a same age as them and give them a guide and challenging environment to where they have to get too.
“The professional set-up in England is second to none and all we are trying to do is to try and give these boys the best opportunity when they go across the water, by trying to work off a similar model a technical aspect and we have noticed from that the younger players coming through into the group are technically better.
“They are getting more connect time on the ball through small sided games and then playing top class opponents at older age groups has brought these players further in their development and the analysis part of it has been very strong, especially in the older groups,
“We have been able to break down the game better using top class analysists from Kyle Ferguson at Jordanstown, right through to guys that I have known who have worked at top class professional clubs and they have come in and been able to sit alongside the groups and help develop them.
“Again once they go across the water if they are lucky enough to do that they have been given that attention every single day in England so us given them a similar set-up all be it on a much smaller scale, they are getting the same analysis, training and contact time with them and they are more relaxed when they go across.
“So there has been a lot of hard work to develop that programme and we recognise that there’s a huge commitment from parents and parents are key to everything, because they become their taxi driver, psychologist, nutritionist and their coach when they are away from us, so this is a combined effort from us, to club, to parents and where we were a few years back to where we are now we have made huge strides in that department.”