This week we have been reviewing the 2022/23 season from the viewpoint of different areas of the football club. Today Stevie Kinniburgh reviews the season for the Academy
“The FA Youth Cup run is what everyone sees but you also have the Tyler Goodrhams and Gatlin O’Donkors who have gone and played thousands of minutes in the first team. So there are several big highlights for us in what was a really positive season.".
Youth players in the first team
"The big thing for me is always opportunity because you are never dealing with the finished product in terms of players, you are always dealing with potential. If we can get those players with potential to a stage where the first team are comfortable with having them train with them, and from there to get them on to the pitch, then that’s our job done.
Players who step up have to fit in technically and tactically, show an understanding of space and awareness of what is around you, and you have to fit in socially as well. We are all in the same building but going as a 17 or 18 year old to fit in with an established men’s group can be really tough. That’s a barrier you always have to break through but nobody sees. The Gaffer is really good and has three or four of our young players in and around the first team and training regularly at any given time and it’s the ones who thrive in that environment who go and kick on.
“Liam and I sit down and have regular meetings about how things look, and we are very aligned in that. If I push someone forward, he has been great and said ‘Well I’ll trust you on that’ and then if he feeds back to me then I trust his judgement in return. As a club we have to back each other. OK, we aren’t all going to agree on everything but we sit down and have a proper conversation that starts with ‘This is what we’re doing and this is why…’
“Tyler, Gatlin, James Golding and Josh Johnson have become first team players over the season. There is more integration to come but they are on the pathway, and as an Academy our job is to continue to push them forward whenever they need our help.
“Young players have dips along the way but in Chris Hackett and Pablo Haysham we have two people who are really good at guiding them and have excellent relationships with the players. My job is to build on that and to push players from the under 15s and 16s up into the under 18s, and then from that group into the first team.
"A massive highlight was obviously the FA Youth Cup Run. To make history for the club, getting to the Quarter Finals for the first time will be a memory that the boys and staff involved will cherish forever.
"It just shows the direction we are heading and to only lose out to one of, if not the best team in the world is a huge credit to the attitude and application we've had from the scholars this year.
"The performances that they put in in front of a big crowd at the Kassam, which is never easy for young players, were exceptional. Beating Cardiff and Leeds and then the celebrations after the game are special moments and we want to take this season and make those moments more and more regular for our Academy.
"Togetherness coupled with uniqueness is huge for us and we saw that on so many occasions across the season, but especially in the FA Youth Cup run. They performed as a unit and were socially and physically together and that mentality took them so far. We're extremely proud of how it played out.
Youngsters stepping up
The Merit League, which has run since January, has seen under 14s playing in an under-18 league and we have had one of our under 15s called up for Wales under 16s, playing a year up. We have to try and ready the players lower down the age groups. My big things is for players from Oxford playing for Oxford United. I look at the depth chart for players coming through and the vast majority will be from Oxfordshire. How do we get 14 and 15 year olds, on a part-time schedule, ready to step up to full time as scholars? That is another challenge for us. We want them to hit the ground running when they become scholars; to already have played in the Youth Alliance, already trained with the first team, already be well along the pathway rather than making that one big step forward
The foundations were very good and Dan Harris had done great work. What I want is, we have the women’s and girls side of things, we have the Community coaching youngsters, we have the Academy and we have the first team. We have to be aligned across all of those things. So I talk to Liam Manning, Gemma Sims, to Community and we talk about a curriculum across the club, about having an identity as Oxford United as a whole. So when age groups go away for pre-season they know they are representing this football club and what that means to us all.
"I have loved my first season and think we are making genuine progress. There is plenty of work underway already this summer and I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard within the Academy. Enjoy your break and then see you for a brand new season".