SHAMROCK Rovers Under-12s returned from the Gwened Cup in France at the weekend with the winners’ trophy in hand following a memorable two days in Brittany.
Rovers played 12 short games over the weekend, using all 11 of their available players in the eight-a-side match-ups before seeing off Angers 4-1 in the final.
The Tallaght side are coached by former international Keith Fahey, Tony O’Dowd and Paul Fox, and last month made it to the final of the All-Ireland Cup before bowing out to St Kevin’s Boys.
They were the only non-French side among the 40 teams competing in the tournament and they had two penalty shoot-out wins on their way to the semi-finals.
After seeing off Rennes to book a meeting in the final with Angers, whom they also met in the pool stages, Rovers took the cup thanks to doubles from Ajibola Oluwabiyi and Ike Orazi.
Both players are natives of the Blanchardstown area and products of the club’s schoolboy partnership with Corduff.
“It’s our third year there and we’ve improved every year,” academy director Shane Robinson tells the Dublin Gazette.
“We were beaten in the quarter-finals last year and this year we go back and win it. The boys were mentally strong to get through a tough couple of rounds of football and come back on the winning side.
“It was a good achievement from the boys to go through the whole weekend because it’s a different way of playing football and a different format even.
“They play eight-a-side as opposed to our boys, who would play nine and seven. It’s a little bit different, so it was a great experience for the boys.
“They stay with host families for the weekend, French teams who’ve hosted the tournament’s families, so they get a little bit of the French culture as well.
“It’s not just football – it’s taking them out of their comfort zone a bit too. Which is good, because it prepares them for further stuff down the road if they do go away from home or anything like that.”
The DDSL’s decision to abandon the calendar football season and return to playing alongside the school year will create problems, but Robinson insists the talent is there if nurtured properly.
“There’s a lot of negative talk about underage leagues, and this league and that league, but there is definitely raw talent in the country if you can guide it in the right way.
“It’s the FAI’s responsibility and the clubs’ responsibility and the DDSL’s responsibility but trying to get everyone on the same page is a difficult thing.
“That teams, the 2007s, would have played St Kevin’s in the All-Ireland final a couple of weeks ago and St Kevin’s beat us.
“There’s talented players there, they just need the right structures and environment to be able to go and compete in tournaments like this.”