Danny O’Leary has been appointed as the new head of youth development at Sligo Rovers.
With all the justifiable fanfare about the exciting new pre-season arrivals it might just have gone under the radar that no fewer than five of Sligo Rovers first team squad for the forthcoming campaign are products of the club’s impressive youth development system.
The promising progress of Gary Boylan , Regan Donelon, Ed McGinty, John Mahon and Jack Keaney illustrates the tremendous work being done by the club’s youth coaches in recent years and the underage structure is being significantly strengthened today with the appointment of the former Rovers goalkeeper.
Sligo Rovers chairman Martin Heraghty said: “We felt it necessary to make the appointment to bridge the gap between our youth team management, the first-team management and the committee.
“There are organisational issues, planning, liasing for key decisions for development of youth players and with clubs in the region.
“The role is tied to all of that and more. It will allow the coaches a point of contact to the committee and to work with the first-team manager on the latest updates from the youth teams.
“We feel it’s an appointment to help all areas of youth football at the club and Danny is a great fit for the role.”
O’Leary, who has been to the forefront of the club’s burgeoning underage academy since its inception , will oversee an ambitious blueprint for the development of talented young players from across the region at under-15, under-17 and under-19 levels, with the ultimate aim of putting in place a consistent supply of top quality players for the senior team.
A League and FAI Cup winner with Shelbourne, the Sheffield native spent two seasons at the Showgrounds under Tommy Cassidy before going on to perform with distinction at a number of League clubs, including Kildare County, Longford Town, Athlone Town and Monaghan.
Employed by Solas as a full time sports tutor at its Sligo Training Centre, O’Leary has been coaching Rovers’ under-17s for the past three years, a role he will continue to fulfil alongside his duties as overall boss of the club’s youth development strategy.
His infectious enthusiasm for the job, allied to his vast experience, will ensure that the 62 young footballers currently on the club’s books will be given every opportunity to fulfil their ambition of becoming top players.
He explains: “It’s all about creating a pathway for young players from under-15 level right up to the senior squad. Our job is to ensure that we find the best players from across the region, nurture and develop their natural talent and equip them with the necessary skills so that they’re ready to play senior football if and when that chance comes.
“To have five players in the current senior squad who have graduated from our youth ranks proves that it can be done, and Gerard Lyttle has demonstrated that he is prepared to give young players a chance in the first team. In the pre-season games so far, seven or eight of our youngsters have been given a run.
“My goal would be to see at least three of our under-19 squad progressing to the senior squad each year, and with the supply line then continuing from the under-15s and under-17s, the ultimate aim would eventually be to have the basis of the first team produced locally.
“I appreciate there will probably always be a need for a club like Rovers to bring in players from England and Scotland to supplement what we develop ourselves, but I firmly believe we can get to a stage where the majority of the first team squad will be home produced.
“That’s the aim of the strategy we have in place and I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to see it implemented over the coming years.”
Danny will be working closely with the club’s youth coaches, Conor O’Grady, Marcel Gordon, Paul Masterson (under-15); Niall Harrison, Colm Jinks (under-17); and Brian Dorrian, Darragh Healy and Raf Cretaro (under-19) to ensure the best possible pathway is provided for the cream of the region’s young talent.
The appointment of a Youth Development Officer also highlights the club’s commitment to underage football in the area, and the close working relationship which has been forged in recent years with the Sligo/Leitrim Youth Leagues is sure to pay handsome dividends in the years to come.
The club’s participation in the new under-17 Womens National League is another exciting development, with Danny predicting a bright future for the team as womens’ football continues to prosper across the country.