U-19 season starts Sunday
Sligo Rovers under-19s start their new season this weekend with a home game against Drogheda United.
Rovers are in Section 3 of the SSE Airtricty League under-19 season along with Finn Harps, Letterkenny Rovers, Derry City, Dundalk and Drogheda United.
Ahead of the new season we spoke to under-19 coach Ciaran Kelly about the season.
He firstly spoke about some of the new additions to the squad. “Mikey Place is a number 10 who was with Lucan United last year. He comes from Dunmore in Galway like Regan Donelon. Some fans may have seen him play in the friendly against Motherwell, he did well and nearly got himself a goal. He is a very promising young player but has a lot of work to do before he makes the step-up.
“Chris Flanagan is a midfielder that signed last week. He is an ex-Derry City under-19. He has moved to IT Sligo so it makes sense for him to come and play with us.
“Iarla Connor comes from Enniscrone and had been training with us last season. He was unlucky to not be involved with the team last year so he has deserved his opportunity.
“Brian Morley has been signed from Salthill Devon, he had played with Lough Harps before in the Roscommon League. He’s an attacking player who can play on either wing or through the middle.
“Shane McCallion is a young centre-back from Strand Celtic. He is a tall and physical defender but he likes to pass the ball and play as well.”
Pre-season preparations have seen friendlies against the likes of Crystal Palace under-18s and concluded with a game against the Ballina Town senior team. It ended in a 5-2 Rovers win with two goals for Liam Flatley, a double also for Cathal Carney and one by Martin Walsh.
Kelly said: “Pre-season has been a little difficult as we had planned to start two weeks before the start of the season. But we had to adapt as the start date was pushed out. Playing against the Ballina men’s was good test as it was a physical, tactical and technical challenge. It took a while for us to figure it out. We went one down and then lost our left-back Fintan Borotto with a head injury after a typically brave challenge from him. But as the game went on we grew, became more confident and played some nice stuff. In the end we definitely should have had more than the five goals.”
This season will only last 10 games with the final game at the end of November, that is due to the season changing to a summer format for 2016: “It doesn’t really affect our plans for the season. It is all about getting game time and figuring things out during games. We have a very young team that have developed a lot tactically and technically and that’s pleasing. But we are looking to develop further. We have to develop physically and you can see in the conditioning of the players the hard work that has been done.
“The squad this season is made up of 17 players born in 1998, three born in 1997 and two born in 1996. That means that 17 of our squad still have two and a half years left at this level and could be playing with the under-17s.
“It’s a great help having the under-17 league set up. When players come first there is always a settling in period to get used to the expectations at a senior club. Having the under-17s in place will make that a bit easier. It gives the opportunity for players to play in big stadiums against players from all over the country. They will develop much quicker having more time with us rather than bringing in an 18-year-old and working with them. It’s a big help to have the under-17 league up and running and hopefully there will be an under-15 in another few years.”
The underage set up at Sligo Rovers has gone from strength to strength with many players making the transition to the first team which pleases Kelly: “There is a sense of pride. The lads deserve every bit of recognition that they get. Gary Boylan and Regan Donelon have really nailed down places in the first team and that is down to their hard work. There’s also Keating, Armstrong, McManus, Flatley who have all featured and played. To be working in a full-time set up is immense for them.
“It gives an optimism to the younger lads that see that. They know that they will younger players will be given their opportunity. You can see that they are all pushing to emulate the older players.”
Rovers under-19s play Drogheda United at The Showgrounds astro pitch this Sunday at 2pm. See here for the full season’s fixture list and here for more on the squad. Rovers under-17s play on Saturday at 2pm against Longford Town also at The Showgrounds.