Glenn Ferguson has given a ringing endorsement of the work being done throughout the various youth sections at Ballymena United.
The Sky Blues manager has already reaped the benefit of some of the talent coming through the Showgrounds ranks.
And Ferguson believes that youth development will come into sharper focus as United attempt to compete to break into the top six bracket in the Danske Bank Premiership.
“It’s a very important aspect of the club,” said Ferguson.
Financially we can’t compete with other teams to bring in better players so if you can pick up a gem or two coming through the system.
When I first came into the job, I had a meeting with all of the coaches from under-11s up and I told them their main objective was to push better players through to the next level and the next age group - that is how hey would measure success.
Over the last couple of seasons, it has started to mature when you look at the number of players in the resevre and youth teams who have played first team football.
This year we’ve had Matthew Shevlin, Jake McNeill, Aaron Harris and Craig Gardiner who have all been there or thereabouts so it’s important we produce players to come through at each age group,” adds Glenn.
One of the biggest success stories this season has been the youth (under-19) team who are on course to finish in the top three of the NIFL Youth League.
Manager Clifford Adams and assistant John Clarke have worked extremely hard to attract Ballymena-based talent from other clubs including Eamon Fyfe, from Cliftonville, and Josh Corry, who was at Crusaders.
The under-19s have also benefited from the promotion of a number of last year’s under-17s, along with an influx of players from local boys’ clubs, including Leon Bonnes,Jonny Logan, Stewart Nixon, Kyle Beggs and Mathew Shevlin, all of whom have played in the Reserves with Shevlin going on to the first team. Jake Mcneill and Jason Johnston are two others who have had tastes of first team at ages of 17 and 18.
The coaches have introduced a new training structure involving the clubs under-16s and under-17s as well as the under-19s with one night per week working with conditioning coach Sam Clarke, from Peak Physique, and their improved physical stature has been a notable factor in their excellent season.
“It is extremely tough and takes a huge commitment from the young players as the lads are training 3 times a week to give themselves the best possible chance of moving up the club,” says Clifford Adams.
“The youth team and reserves have had a good season in their respective leagues but league position isn’t important although it is nice to be doing well. We find that if you’re doing the right things, good results come off the back of them.
“But the main priority is developing players and finding that next player with the capability of going all the way. It should be all players’ aims to play at the highest level and be the best they can be,” adds Cliffy.