As we head into the final weeks of the U19 domestic season, the sight of the Southern Elite Division table is a very encouraging one for Cork City supporters. With 16 games played, the club’s U19s side has amassed an impressive total of 44 points. Even more incredible, however, is the Losses column, which contains a ‘0’ (zero).
This article originally appeared in City Edition, the club’s match night programme.
Stephen Bermingham’s squad, largely the same group of players from the previous season, is now unbeaten in an astonishing 33 games and over 12 months at this stage. (August 22, 2015 was their last defeat).
Having claimed the U19 Elite national league title in Limerick late last year, the league’s move to ‘summer football’ has brought about even better standards of football and pitch surfaces as well as allowing City’s players tog out in the likes of the RSC in Waterford and Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Bermingham, for his part, was delighted to heap praise on his squad, speaking to City Edition.
“The last time we lost a game was the first game of last season against UCD. After every game, we reflect on the performance – whether we win or lose. Even if we win well, we look at performance. Sometimes you might win a game but the performance might not be up to scratch. You need to reflect on that while looking forward to the next game and putting a plan together to progress. And that’s how we’ve kept the lads motivated,” he explains.
“Our guys are training very hard and there is fierce competition for places. They are always looking forward rather than back. They know if they get into the team, it’s up to them to take their opportunity. We’ve even had some of the U17s in with us too and Cian Leonard actually scored for us recently. It’s a knock on effect – the U17s are coming up to the U19s and the U19s are going up to the first team. It’s great to see and it’s been very positive.”
The club has had an excellent tradition in underage football over the years and its U17s outfit are also currently top of their Southern Elite Division, five points clear of UCD U17s and nine points clear of Waterford United U17s in third. However, success year in year out is not a given and often masks the efforts being made each season.
“People see these guys playing matches and training but they don’t perhaps see the extra work that’s put in,” Bermingham went on. “A lot of these guys work away on their own on different things – be it nutrition or how they recover from an injury. Everything in their life can circulate around football at times and how they can prepare themselves.
“If they are working for example, they need to look after themselves throughout the day and eat right so that they can then train properly that evening. It’s 24/7 for these guys. After a game, they are resting and recovering. They are getting fluids and proper food back into their body. They may stretch after a game if they need it – they all react differently so we educate them on what they have to do for themselves in all areas.
“We want to give them that chance to become full-time players in the long run so that if John (Caulfield) decides to take certain players in his group, then this (side of the game) isn’t new to them. Our lads are training hard and training non-stop but we know when they need a rest. This is preparation is to help them for that step up into the first team.”
It’s been a hugely positive year in terms of player progression too. Connor Ellis signed a professional contract with the club earlier in the summer and is now playing on loan with Cobh Ramblers.
Conor McCarthy continued to add to his tally of international appearances and also made his competitive SSE Airtricity League debut against Shamrock Rovers in June, while Cian Coleman scored in the club’s senior friendly against Wolves a couple of weeks later – a game in which Aaron Drinan also featured.
Goalkeeper David Coffey acted as cover for the injured Alan Smith for a number of games – until the arrival of Matthew Connor – all of which came alongside the fact that a significant portion of the U19 squad trained with the first team on a regular basis throughout the summer.
“Connor is a proven goal scorer at U19 level. I watched him make his debut for Cobh and he did very well. He has a great attitude, and he works hard. He’s had a difficult season with the Leaving Cert this year – it’s tough to balance both – but now that he’s over that and can concentrate fully on football, I think he has a very good chance of doing very well.
“Between training with Cork City and playing games with Cobh, it will certainly help him. There’s no doubt he wants to play at the highest level he can possibly play at so with that ambition and a good attitude, they work hand in hand. His goals in Cobh will also help their promotion push.”
In fact, it’s an attitude and approach that Bermingham sees throughout his current squad. “There’s a short-term goal with the lads and that’s to win the League but then there’s a longer term objective, and that’s to get into the first team. We’re delighted when we see lads going up to the first team – that’s their aim and it’s what they are driving themselves towards.”
With two league fixtures and the U19 (Enda McGuill) Cup final remaining, there are a busy couple of weeks ahead for Bermingham, his management team and their squad – not to mention the squad’s venture into the Uefa Youth League against HJK Helsinki next month. And, much like their senior counterparts, it’s all about taking each game as it comes along.
“The lads are in good condition at the moment so it’s about maintaining that and keeping them motivated. We’re looking forward to the next game only, getting a performance and three points from that. Then we’ll focus on the game after that, and then the game after that…”
Cork City’s U19s are next in action against Cobh Ramblers on Monday evening. Kick off is St. Coleman’s Park is 7.45pm