The massive strides being made at underage level by St Patrick’s Athletic are typified this week as the club prepare to contest league finals at under-13, under-15 and under-17 level.
Following the under-13s final against Bray Wanderers on Wednesday, October 23rd, the Super Saints’ under-15s face Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
And there’s no let-up for the Inchicore club as they face Bohemians in the under-17 league final on Wednesday, October 30th.
Former Saints player Sean O’Connor coaches the under-15s alongside club captain Ian Bermingham and Dan McGuinness, while goalkeeper Brendan Clarke is an assistant to 13s coach Mark Connolly.
At under-17 level, League of Ireland legend Marc Kenny, who also coaches with Leinster Senior League champions Crumlin United, leads a team including Paul Webb and Sean Gahan.
Pat’s were double winners in the inaugural under-15 league season last year and have lifted the under-17 and under-19 titles in previous years.
The introduction of the under-13 league this year has presented further challenges to clubs all over the country but the Saints have taken it in their stride.
As Director of Football Ger O’Brien explains, the club put in years of planning for every age grade and their scouting network is second to none.
“The way we identify players we want to bring into the club is we don’t always look for the big, strong, physical kid,” O’Brien tells the Dublin Gazette.
“We do our due diligence over 12 or 18 months on players. People are probably looking at this and scratching their head, going ‘is that actually the case?’
“We go to under-10s and 11s games because we want to see their progress over 12 or 18 months. We want to see them on the pitch and off the pitch before they come into our environment.
“It’s encouraged that all the teams play a certain way, but [the coaches] are all given a license to coach in their own style.”
The argument over whether player development is better served by pure technical development or by winning trophies is moot at Pat’s, where they believe they’ve shown both can be done in tandem.
“Some people in football will define ‘success’ as bringing players onto the next stage, some people will define it as winning trophies, and for us it’s both. We want to be successful on the pitch.
“The players want to win no matter what age they are. Our job is to develop them and bring them through to the next level, from 13s to 15s, from 15s to 17s and so on.”