As Leeds United played against the Republic of Ireland u16 Development squad in the shadow of the clubhouse at The Drom, the scoreline was not as odd as the fact a man I’d seen so animated off the pitch in recalling stories just out of earshot was composed throughout the game, bar the odd show of emotion every coach is susceptible to during a match.
That man is Andy Wood, the Head of Foundation at Leeds United, and while I spoke to him after Leeds United lost the aforementioned match by five goals to nil, he was still upbeat and spoke at first about how much he, the coaching staff and players enjoyed being at the Galway Cup.
“We’ve enjoyed the tournament, we really do actually enjoy coming to Galway. Everyone makes us feel really, really welcome and we think the standard of play has really improved over the years we’ve been here.”
Then came the meticulous, yet honest, assessment of Leeds United’s games previously with a close, tight win over Cherry Orchard preceding a two-nil loss to fellow English side Ipswich Town in the 2001 Elite competition.
“The first game we played against Cherry Orchard was a real physical challenge for us. Some of the Cherry Orchard boys made ours look a little bit on the smaller side. However, in really difficult conditions, on that first day with the rain and the wind, we were penned in quite a bit but I thought we actually played some good football in little spells.
“The game could have gone either way to be fair to Cherry Orchard, I think we scored just on the stroke of halftime and that then obviously enabled us to have a little team talk at half time, lift the boys up again, and just keep them trying to do the right things.
“And then in the second half, I really think that if Cherry Orchard had scored, it probably would have been a really close game, they might have even then shaved it to be honest, and then they got the corner, which we got the classic counterattack, broke out and, to be fair to our striker [Max McMillan, who scored the earlier goal too], I thought he took the goal exceptionally well. So we were really pleased with the first game.”
On the match against Ipswich Town, Andy was full of praise for the opponents as felt “they played some excellent football and their movement was much better than ours in general,” before saying that during the course of the defeat, “they just seemed to work the patterns of play a little bit better than we did.”
This candid honesty was later seen as he spoke to and praised the Ipswich coaches and players as they made their way out to face Cherry Orchard in the game after. With a break in the analysis, Andy was wrapped in the tournament spirit as he’d seen “seen two classic little penalty shootouts today” amongst the games the squad have been watching.
They especially enjoyed watching the shootout between West Cork and Kildare earlier in the day as he recalled the former missing two of their penalties before coming back to win the shootout. He then revealed the special interest as “they’re actually sharing the same block where we’re staying so that was good.”
When I posed the question of what they’ve felt was different about the Irish sides compared to other English sides, physicality was once more raised as a point although he was quick to say that, “we didn’t find that there was any tackles flying in on our lads at all.”
On the Rep. of Ireland game, Andy was once more dissecting the match in an understandable way whilst thinking of its benefits for the players despite the scoreline and what that would say on the surface.
“I think they deserved the victory to be quite honest, up until the penalty, the first penalty, we’d actually just got back into the game and I thought we’d quelled the first five or ten minutes quite well. I thought we started to dominate play and I’d actually just turn round to one of the coaches and said to him I think now if we can nick a goal here, all of a sudden we’re going to dominate.
“Then the penalty, it was definitely a penalty, our left back should have dealt with it, in fact we had a 2v1 there, and after the ball had bounced in the air he should have dealt with the header, but again it’s a great learning curve for our boys because, to be honest, it’s the first time this group has been beaten to that degree for quite some time.
“It’s been a real learning curve for our boys. At half time, we said to them you’re going to have to go out there now and show us what you’ve got and for five or ten minutes again, they kept the score down but then, again, they just run out of ideas and before you know it, it’s 6-0 or whatever it is.”
Andy felt it was difficult to keep up with teams in the latter stages of the last two games as they only had the one substitute, which seems to be beginning to take its toll. This was due to some being stopped at the airport while another was ruled out with an injury he suffered in a pre-season friendly just before coming over.
One of those not able to make it was Nohan Kenneh, someone who Andy describes as a “very key central midfield player” and who won the Player of the Tournament award last year with Leeds United. With all the disruption to the squad, he thought it had been tough on the group of players, as well as having games one day after another, but he still felt that “it’s all great experience for them.”
With development being their goal, Andy felt that while the scores are important at a tournament like this, “they all want to be in the final,” the games allowed the coaches to you look at the players within the group as they think about who might be able to make the step up to the 16s and then higher on to the 18s as “that’s our long term aim, the development of the players and that’s what we’re all about at Leeds United.”
With Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor already stalwarts within the Leeds United squad as well as Lewis Coyle and Kalvin Phillips pushing for a starting spot, Andy was of the opinion that it was a great advert for the academy as players know and understand “if they get within the academy system at our place, potentially we want them in the first team.”
While mentioning current u21 coach Jason Blunt, who was over at the tournament last year, and the fact all the coaches are aware of Kalvin and Lewis, “I mean I’ve known Lewis myself since he’s been a young boy”, as well as most of the kids that come through now being with Leeds for sixteen and seventeen years.
“So you know I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of them come through and all the staff now, we love the fact that there’s an opportunity in the first team.”
Another anecdote about recent coaching in Galway Hibernians and spotting a young player in action and how’d love him in the academy, shows that the Leeds United academy is always a forethought in Andy’s mind and he finishes by saying that if he were to come over, “they’ll know potentially they’ll have an opportunity because our academy is about getting him to the first team, we’re all about development.”
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