DECLAN McCOY: Build a squad, give youth a chance

I’M a great believer in getting young players into the senior team as early as possible. There are a few reasons for this approach, some by choice and others by necessity.

When a manager is trying to build a team, they should really focus on building a squad. To demonstrate this point, if you are a manager reading this article, write out your strongest possible team. Imagine championship is in the morning, county players are available, no-one is injured, and players aren’t on holiday. I can guarantee you one thing, you will rarely if ever get that team on the pitch.

There will always be injuries, work shifts, holidays and other commitments that will stop your dream team from lining out. From experience, you have two choices: 1) Bemoan your bad luck at not getting your perceived Harlem Globetrotters on the field or 2) Pre-empt the inevitable and build a squad.

Remember you can’t Pep Guardiola your way out of it by throwing money at the problem, so you must build from within.

Giving young players meaningful game-time experience is the way forward. Experience is the key word here. It will often be levelled at players that they are too young and don’t have the experience for senior football. Experience is the one thing you don’t think you need until you get it and can’t get until you’re given it.

Many managers will hold off playing younger players and when the inevitable injuries occur later in the year, they will then throw them into big games untested and with no experience. Inevitably many young players will struggle in such circumstances.

It is much more beneficial to give these players opportunities as early as possible. Obviously this has to be done in a sensible way.

Aaron McKay claims to this day that I played him midfield for Dromintee seniors at 14. Whilst this is a slight exaggeration, it is important to protect the younger players. This can be done by bedding them in with established season campaigners in dribs and drabs as opposed to introducing several players at once.

You also must play them in positions that won’t expose them. For example, playing them at full-back or centre half-back against quality opposition will be a steep learning curve for them. I think it is easier for a young forward to learn their trade than for a defender. If a forward is struggling then you can chalk it down to a learning experience, if a young defender struggles then the player that they are marking can cause serious damage.

There are several advantages to unleashing the younger players. 1) They have no fear and carry no baggage. There are no psychological scars that established players might carry from previous defeats. 2) They are full of running and energy and will do a lot of the spade work for the older players. 3) Most importantly, they will reinvigorate the squad.

I am in a lucky position with Louth side St Bride’s at the minute that we have eight or nine u-20s in the team. It has brought a freshness and has ensured that the established players are kept honest as the environment is ultra-competitive.

To coin a phrase, ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough.’

Provided the influx of youth can be balanced with seasoned players’ experiences, then you have the best of both worlds. There is no substitute for experience and as much as the new generation will learn from games, they will benefit from having the older heads with them to guide them.

So, in case Aaron Hoey is reading this, I’ll coin another phrase, ’if you’re good enough you’re young enough.’

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