The Finn Harps Academy launched their new ‘Player Pathway’ structures and unveiled new managers last night at the club’s offices in the Base Centre, Stranorlar. Head of the Academy Kevin McHugh outlined the vision for the development of underage football from U12 upwards where a new head coach has been installed for the first time.
Former Gweedore Celtic and Fanad Utd player Paul Rua McBride has been appointed as the Harps U15 manager for the 2019 season while the Ballyshannon based Conrad Clark is the new U12 head of development. As a result McHugh will step down from his current U15 manager role to take charge of the brand new U13 Finn Harps team who will take part in the inaugural National League at this age group.
The revised structures is all about nurturing talent, giving boys the opportunity to play on the national underage stage and the ultimate aim is to produce players capable of stepping up to the Finn Harps senior team in the League of Ireland. The club’s Ulster Senior League side is another stepping stone for young players to gain experience at a decent standard to make the transition to the League of Ireland at bit easier.
Speaking after the launch McHugh said the new pathway structures were being introduced to keep aligned with the FAI Development Plan for underage football. “People ask why are we changing what appears to be a very good structure that has been here. We’re making these changes to keep in line with the FAI Development Plan and we want to be a step ahead now by starting the U12 development squad. It is key for us to get boys prepared for the national league” McHugh said
Harps will also have U14 and U16 developments squads who will be looked after current coaching staff. “When we were looking for people to take charge of teams we wanted individuals with good character as well having qualifications to do the job. Conrad Clark has been managing the Donegal Schoolboys 06 squad so we’re very pleased to have him in to be the head coach with the new U12 development team. We’re also delighted to be able to appoint Paul Rua McBride as the new U15 manager. Paul has been looking after our Academy 04 squad. I’m steeping down to manager the U13 team and they will work alongside the U12 players. We want to throw the net wider and also try and pick up any late developers. So there is going to be plenty of opportunities for young players in the new revised structures. The aim of the Finn Harps Academy to provide the best stage for schoolboys in the Northwest to develop” McHugh said
In 2019 Harps will have four teams competing at National League level – U13, U15, U17 and U19. The 17s and 19s are managed by Declan Boyle and Joe Boyle respectively and both sides have acquitted themselves very well in the company of clubs like St. Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, Dundalk and Derry City.
The success of the club’s underage structure is clearly demonstrated in the last year by the transfer of three young players to English clubs. Gweedore native Marc Walsh joined Swansea City last summer while in January Letterkenny lad Shane Blaney moved to Doncaster Rovers. And in May another Letterkenny boy Conor O’Reilly’s transfer to Ipswich Town was finalised.
The Academy has also played a key role in lads like Niall McGinley, Liam Walsh, Gareth Doherty, Ryan Finn, Darragh Ellison and Jamie Browne making it into Ollie Horgan’s senior squad.