Sligo Rovers have confirmed that three U19 players have signed professional contracts.
Defender John Mahon, midfielder Jack Keaney and goalkeeper Ed McGinty have all graduated to the senior team.
With the under-17 and under-19 teams enjoying remarkable success in national leagues and cups, and under-15 and under-13 teams shortly to come on stream, the development and nurturing of talent in the region has never been so well catered for.
Here’s Rovers boss Gerard Lyttle…
John Mahon is a Collooney native, whose fledgling years were usefully spent in the Ballisodare United youth teams.
A commanding centre-back, John has just completed his Leaving Cert at Coola Post Primary School and has already won international representative honours for his country.
Having been brought to the Showgrounds since childhood by his dad, Sylvester, John is acutely aware of the honour of becoming a full time professional with his local team.
“It’s something you dream about from a young age. Football is all I ever really wanted to do, so to sign professionally with Rovers is literally a dream come true,” he says.
But side by side with that useful enthusiasm is the realisation that the hard work is only beginning.
“Having played for both the Under-17 and under-19 teams I realise the importance of constantly improving your game. This is a huge step up, and it will be hard to make the breakthrough to the first team.
“But the manager obviously believes in us so it’s a matter of training hard, working hard and improving all the time. It would be the dream to get a chance to play at a higher level. This is the first step and it’s all about hard work to become a part of the squad here, to make first team appearance and continue to go from there.”
Ed McGinty, who turned 18 at the start of this month, is a Motherwell born goalkeeper, who began playing with Rovers Under-19 team in the 2016 season. His progress to a full time professional contract has been rapid but not surprising given his immense potential and pedigree.
He spent three years with the famous Celtic youth academy in his early teens and another with Hibernian before accepting an invitation to link up with Rovers last year.
Remarkably, his entire family, mum, dad and two brothers relocated to Ballyshannon — his siblings are currently students at NUIG — to support him in his ambtion to become a professional player.
“I found it a bit difficult to settle when I first came over, but once the family came to live here it was much easier. I am thrilled to get this chance to become a full-time pro and I am young enough to learn and improve every day. My aim is to be ready to take my chance of a first team place whenever the opportunity arises,” he explains.
His impressive performances in a Rovers shirt were rewarded with Ireland caps against Germany and Turkey in recent months.
Jack Keaney is an 18 years old central midfield player who hails from Donegal Town but has Sligo blood flowing strongly through his veins. His dad, Paddy and uncles Joe, Gerry and Martin are lifelong Rovers supporters whose passion for the #bitored is unsurpassed.
“I’m a Donegal man through and through, but I’ve never supported any team other than Sligo Rovers. The club has been part of my life since I was a child,” he said.
Jack has impressed in both the Under-17 and Under-19 grades for the club and has already had first team squad experience, as well as representing Ireland on four occasions at the Slovakia Cup earlier this year.
Awaiting his Leaving Cert results in the coming weeks, Jack describes signing his first professional contract as “a massive step.”
“It’s something you always dream of and to get the chance at such an early age is really massive. I will keep the head down, work hard and see where it takes me. Gerard Lyttle is the type of manager who is not afraid to give young players a chance so i’ts a matter of being ready when the chance comes. The senior players have taken us under their wings, which has been a huge help, so we really feel part and parcel of the set up. I’m determined to take this as far as possible,” Jack adds.
All three players have been part of the senior squads already with Keaney most recently featuring in the game with Dundalk last month.
Tomorrow, Rovers head to Longford Town for their FAI Cup opener.
With a crucial home league game against Bray Wanderers to follow on Tuesday, boss Gerard Lyttle has been giving Ocean FM his thoughts on the cup competition…