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Neville: Academy Going From Strength to Strength

// 5 Aug 2020

As the club’s academy teams prepare for the restart of the National League season, Dundalk head of youth development Mick Neville believes the hard work that’s being put in behind the scenes at Oriel Park is starting to bear fruit.

Teenagers Val Adedokun, Jamie Wynne, Andrew Quinn and Mark Hanratty have all signed professional deals with the Lilywhites over the past six months while the likes of Ronan Kilkenny, Christian Jones, Thomas Daly, Jack Kavanagh, Luke Hennessy, Jarlath Jones, Ebuka Kwele and Jeff Nwodo have also lined out with the first team in recent weeks.

Adedokun is a product of the club’s link-up with Malahide United. Established back in 2015, it provides the North Dublin club’s platers with a pathway to the League of Ireland.

Val Adedokun signed a professional deal back in January. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“Val is a very exciting prospect,” said Neville. “The U19s were playing a friendly last week and Val threw a dummy that even done me in the dugout! I don’t know how he did it! He’s brilliant on the ball and he’s really quick. He needs to physically mature because he’s still able to play at U17 level but that will come.”

There was a further sign of the quality coming through the ranks at Oriel Park when former Dundalk U19 midfielder Gabriel Adebambo signed a two-year deal with Stoke City last weekend.

Adebambo spent 12 months at Oriel Park last season and Neville said he has all the tools required to make a mark with the Potters, especially after catching the eye of Stoke City manager Michael O’Neill in a trial match.

Gabriel Adebambo completed a move to Stoke City at the weekend. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“On the recommendation of former Dundalk Mick Kavanagh, who is now one of our scouts, I went to watch some lads from Home Farm play against Leixlip United and Gabriel, who was playing in midfield for Leixlip, really stood out,” explained Neville.

“Three of the Leixlip players went over to England to try and find clubs but Gabriel wasn’t selected, and he came home. Myself and Derek Boyle, the U19 manager at Dundalk, went down to meet the hierarchy in Leixlip and we managed to get Gabriel up to Oriel Park.”

Adebambo was a regular in Dundalk’s U19 team last season. He was also part of the Leinster squad that won the interprovincial tournament and last September he won his first cap for the Republic of Ireland’s U18 team.

Andrew Quinn. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“Gabriel is very good technically,” said Neville. “He can play as a number six, and he’s developing well physically, but he needs to work on the defensive side of his game, and he knows that.

“When he went over to Stoke he had a trial at Stoke’s academy. Michael O’Neill was a spectator at the match and wanted to know who the guy from Ireland was. They were raving about him and it went from there. We wish him all the best.”

Turning his attention closer to home, Neville said that Andrew Quinn, Mark Hanratty and goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran, who has been training with the first-team over the past month, have all been included in an Irish U19 home-based training squad which will meet up this Sunday.

Mark Hanratty. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

Neville, who is part of Tom Mohan’s coaching team, will take charge of the ‘northern’ side while former Cork City midfielder Colin Healy will manage the ‘southern’ team as part of the preparations for the upcoming U19 Championships which will take place in Romania in 2021.

The U19s have been drawn as the host country against Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Estonia in the qualifying round draw which will take place in November.

Quinn and Hanratty both started in Saturday’s behind closed doors friendly with Linfield and Neville said he was happy with the progress that both players have made over the past 12 months.

Ronan Kilkenny in action against Athlone Town recently. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“Mark is one of those players who am better when he plays at an older level. The bigger the challenge, the better he seems to be. He made his debut with the first team last year, and he has developed again.

“At U19 level, it’s very hustle and bustle, but with the first team, he is given more time on the ball and then it’s a matter of what you do with it. He seems to relish that kind of thing and during the lockdown, he has really bulked up.”

Recent injuries to Brian Gartland and Sean Hoare have opened the door for Quinn to train and play with the first team in some of their recent friendlies and Neville praised the young Dubliner’s temperament.

Jeff Nwodo. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“Andrew takes everything in his stride. He is intelligent and he knows what he wants to do, on and off the pitch. He was attracted by a scholarship with UCD but he has taken a scholarship at DkIT. Vinny Perth spoke to him and his father and we are delighted he opted to stay here.

“The great thing for these lads is that they are playing and training with the best players in the country. People talk about coaches and coaching but the best experience they can get is from being on the pitch with the senior lads.

“During the Linfield game on Saturday, Brian Gartland was constantly speaking to the young lads like Andrew, Mark and Ronan Kilkenny and that will be a huge benefit to them all. That sort of thing is invaluable to a young player.”

Former Quay Celtic, Redeemer Celtic and Seatown player Thomas Daly made his first-team debut against Athlone Town. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

Neville, along with the rest of Dundalk’s various underage coaches, is currently preparing for the resumption of the 2020 campaign on the week ending August 17th and he said that players were eager to make up for the lost time.

“We were just ready to start the season when COVID hit so lads have had no real football at all this year,” he said. “It’s not the loss of games as such, it’s the loss of training that will affect them, especially the U13s who need to be training regularly.

“In fairness to all of the coaches at Oriel, they’ve kept on top of their respective squad’s fitness throughout the break on Zoom calls so the players are in good shape. They just need to get back on the pitch.”

Jimmy Corcoran has been training with the Dundalk squad. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

A six-time League of Ireland winner, Neville has been the FAI’s development officer for Louth for the past 13 years and he said that the conveyor belt of talent at Oriel Park was starting to crank into gear.

“The academy is starting to take shape now,” he said. “We bring U17s through to the U19s if they’re good enough, U15s through to the U17s if they are good enough and U13s through to the U15s if they are good enough. We try and bring them in a year earlier so that they can mature that bit quicker.

“We just have to make sure that we’re in for the best players,” he added. “Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne and Bohemians are hoovering up all the best young players in Dublin and we need to make our presence felt up there.

“The link up with Malahide is very strong and enables us to give players in that area a route to the League of Ireland and that pathway is also available for young lads in the local Dundalk Schoolboys League.”