The Academy continues to go from strength to strength this season in terms of player development and is now firmly established as one of the leading Academies in the country with a large introductory mini soccer programme and a foothold in the National League.
As many readers will know, our Academy Director - Dave Harbinson - stepped down from his role in pre-season and he has been missed, however we are now in the final stages of a recruitment process that should see a new Academy Director installed in the coming weeks.
Dave's contribution to the Academy as it stands now should not be forgotten and it is important to put on record our appreciation for the job that he carried out - on a voluntary basis it should be noted - for Glentoran FC. It is not an easy role but one that Dave managed to see through in a manner that has established the youth system as it now stands and I'm sure all Glenmen will join us in thanking Dave for that.
Given the workload involved it has been prudent of the club to take its time to ensure that a suitably qualified and passionate replacement is found to steer the Academy forward from here and with that process almost complete plans are already being put in place for next season to make sure the Academy continues to thrive.
This season so far has been a transitional year for the Academy but one in which the quality of player being produced continues to rise and rise.
For the first time our mini soccer set up goes right down to under 8 with over 40 players involved and a lot of high quality dedicated coaches working closely to develop these little stars. Indeed some of the boys have already caught the eye of Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, with the IFA also taking note through their search for a star programmes. Jason Lindsay and Paul King have shown great dedication to the cause in helping establish our presence at the games development centres and long may that continue. This development will be enhanced by the experience of taking part in the Foyle Cup this coming July.
Our under 11's, under the watchful eye of Manager Iain Dickson, have really impressed this season so far as they sit third in the very competitive Lisburn League where they are yet to taste defeat this season! Highlight of the season so far for the lads born in 2002 however is a fine 3-1 victory over Big Two rivals Linfield in Round 1 of the Irish Cup - Ruari Gallagher the star of the show on the day bagging a hat-trick! Barry Baggley is a name to look out for here as he is already involved in the County Antrim Development Squad at Under 12 a full year ahead of time and has been flown over to Melwood as a guest of Liverpool FC to train and play with their Academy. To single out one player from the team however would do a discredited to the rest of the lads as the team is bristling with talent. The team are looking forward to a trip to compete in a tournament in Barcelona in May.
The Under 12's have performed admirably this season given it has been their first season in the National League. They subsequently qualified for the Premier Section of the League where they now sit tucked in behind Dungannon United Youth - 6 points off the pace but with two games in hand. The team is littered with players who are making a name for themselves at County Level and with Cross Channel clubs as well so the signs are good that there are some stars of the future in this batch! Further evidence of the appeal in our progressive Academy rests in the fact that no fewer than four of this team travel in from Mid-Ulster from as far out as Lurgan and Dollingstown to train and play for the club, a sign of dedication at the age of 11. The under 12's will compete in the Foyle Cup this Summer.
The 2000 age group - under 13's are also in their first season in the National League and are currently sitting third in the Premier Section, level on points with rivals Linfield. The Glens are through to the last 32 of the NIBFA Cup also where they face a home tie with Ballywalter Rec. The 2000s have 9 players involved with the County programme spread across Down, Antrim and Armagh and have 6 players attending weekly centres of excellence with English Club sides. The learning curve this season will include a continental experience as the team travel to Barcelona to take on friendly games with Espanyol and Girona.
The under 14's are also in the National League but unfortunatley had to start off in the B section due to over subscription for the leagues - they are well placed to gain promotion at the first time of asking however, under the guidance of Michael Morrow they sit second in the table with games in hand to take them top. They are also still in the NIBFA Cup and face Linfield in the first Round of the League Cup in the coming weeks. Our under 14's have enjoyed some notable successes this season already including drawing 1-1 with a strong St Pats Athletic under 15's and beating Glasgow Rangers 1-0 at Murray Park.
Our U15, 16 and 17 sides are all competing in the Lisburn League and have enjoyed mixed fortunes so far this season. The under 15's, under Lenny Scott, sit fourth in the league and are improving every week. They are still in the NIBFA Cup and several key players have been attracting some attention this season - not least those who guested in friendly games for the U14 against St Pats and for the U16 against a Man United Academy side.
Jason Cummings is in his first season as a manager at the Academy after spending several seasons as a coach and it didnt take him long to attract some silverware! The U16's won the Lisburn League Shield Final on New Year's Day and the boys are yet to drop a point all season - although they sit several points adrift in the league as they have played up to 7 games fewer than the teams above them.
The Under 17's have fallen victim to the success of our young and talented Glentoran Seconds! The team that won the Steel and Sons Cup had several players still eligible to play Colts football and with those lads playing at a higher level it often leaves the Colts knocking on the door of the 17's Manager looking to call up some players. This is a great sign of progress and player development and Eddie Finn's ever improving team can be proud of their contribution to this success.
All that remains is to thank the ongoing efforts of all the committee members for their hard work in keeping the Academy ticking over each week and wish all our players and coaches an enjoyable and successful run in.
David Lowry - Temporary Academy Director
Glentoran Academy SITE