The Republic of Ireland u16 squad had had a tough two days at the start of the Galway Cup, having been on the end of narrow losses to both Ipswich Town and Cherry Orchard. Yet, while the third day did see a turnaround in fortunes with a big win over Leeds United, Paul Osam’s goal is very much more than just the result.
The former St. Patrick’s Athletic stalwart felt it had been a good tournament so far and although they hadn’t the best of start, “we had a slow start in our first couple of games and we probably didn’t play to the level we like to play to,” he felt it was a good exercise for his squad and staff.
“We don’t just come here to win obviously, winning is nice, but we need to come here to get a good look at players and see what players can come in, maybe those who didn’t get chances last year, and, if they’re good enough, we might find that they’re not up to the level, so we really use it for that but we do also want to win, play competitive games and work on aspects of our play as well.”
A giant man in stature, yet also in thought, Paul was easily picked out of a crowd and could be seen regularly chatting to other coaches at the tournament, especially Stephen Rice. Stephen is in charge of the other Republic of Ireland squad here, the Future Developers side, and Paul said it was “fantastic to see the Future Developers here.“
“I’ve watched them play here and they’re a really good side and, certainly, there are two or three boys in there who I would feel, you know, at this moment wouldn’t be too far away from being able to play in the full u16 international team, absolutely no doubt, and all they need is just to do a little bit of growing physically, get a little bit stronger, as their understanding of the game and their technical ability is outstanding.
“So it’s great that program is running parallel to the u16 team as well because it gives them boys a great opportunity but it also means that it gives me a great opportunity to see players and bring players in that could play international football because I have no doubt some of them boys are more than capable.“
With the squad for the Colin O’Brien’s u17 international side being named the day before, it was interesting to see many of Paul’s previous squad had continued to the next step of the international ladder and their previous manager felt that the continuity was hugely important.
“I don’t think there are too many Collie has brought in, it might have been one or two that didn’t play last year. Those boys I’m thinking about may have been injured last year and may not have been in great form coming back from injuries so I think the bulk of the squad would have played with me last year but then the bulk of the squad I had last year would have played with Collie the previous year at u15s and I think that’s important.
“Within the players that are playing, that they are learning at that age group, learning different aspects, different tactical things, there needs to be continuity but you can’t discard the players that develop late realistically.
“You can’t say these are the twenty players that I’m going to work with for the next three years because it doesn’t work like that. Some fellas drop off, some fellas you know don’t progress, other boys progress quicker at later ages but it’s great to see [the continuity] and I think the bulk of the squad should nearly be the same at 15s, 16s, and 17s, although you will get some changes obviously.”
Some of those that have progressed into the new u17 squad have also been on the transition at club level too. Amongst others, Aaron Bolger has joined Shamrock Rovers underage set-up from St. Joseph’s while Brian Maher has moved from one Saints to another as he swapped St. Kevin’s Boys for St. Patrick’s Athletic and Paul was very much in agreement that this was a positive development.
“Absolutely, one player in particular that played last year, was in the national league u17s when he was u16 and I think that’s the trend you’re going to see across the board. There’s no doubt that the boys aren’t good enough at u16 to play in the u17 national league and I think that it’s a very positive move for the players because they’ll get competitive games very week.
“Just the way the nature of it is, sometimes in the DDSL if they stay in it, that they don’t always get competitive games, not every week, but I think if they go to national league teams and now they have to be good enough as I think they need to be playing as well.
“It’s a difficult one for parents and players if they go to a League of Ireland u17 team and they’re spending all their time on the bench as they’re not going to develop and they’re not going to progress neither. Yet, they do need to be playing competitive stuff, they need to be training at a high tempo as well, which they‘ll get in the national league teams, so I think you’ll see an awful lot of u16 players going forward and playing in the u17 national league.”
When asked about whether there was any differences between those in the squad from English academies and those from Irish equivalents, Paul, in charge of the u16 international squad since last October, was of the opinion that both are more or less similar now and that they that only slight tactical differences exist between the two types of players.
“What may have been an issue in previous years is that the boys from England may have been a little bit more advanced physically than the boys in Ireland but now, a lot of the schoolboy clubs have strength and conditioning through the Emerging Talent Program and we’ve got strength and conditioning coaches in too, so players are more aware of the importance of strength and conditioning, of diet and nutrition and now they’re as fit and as strong as the boys, I’m talking 14/15 year old boys in the UK and 14/15 year old boys here, so there’s not as huge a difference.
“We have three or four boys in from the UK and it’s just a matter of them adapting tactically to what we want them to do but I mean they‘re good players, they’re intelligent players, they’ve probably seen variants of what we want them to do so it’s just tweaking stuff with them and it hasn’t been causing us any real problems.”