Stevenage head of youth on his season so far and ambitions for the future

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STEVENAGE’S head of youth Jimmy Gilligan said he is pleased with the progress he and his team are making in setting up the club’s new Centre of Excellence.

Having been appointed in the summer with a remit to oversee the project and to put together a group of coaches and physios, Gilligan and his team, which includes Centre of Excellence manager Mark Jones, have already got a programme up and running with players in age groups from under-nines to under-18s.

At the top end of the age scale Gilligan has signed up eight full-time scholars and has a number of non-contract players turning out regularly for a side which has started well in its first season in the Puma Youth Alliance with a 3-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers on the opening day followed by two narrow defeats to Luton Town (2-1) and QPR (4-3).

The scholars’ next match is against Northampton Town on October 16, but despite having more than a month’s break Gilligan says he is working as hard as ever to improve his players.

“To be fair it’s going well at the moment and we’re making good progress,” Gilligan told The Comet.

“We’ve got our nine to 16-year-old programme up and running and our under-18 programme so from when we started and not really having any teams in place we have now actually got them in place from under-nine straight through to under-18.

“We’ve been working hard but there really isn’t enough hours in the day. When I’m not with the players my phone is always going off.

“I’ve had to appoint a Centre of Excellence Manager, physio, administrator, development coaches. Every day we’re working all hours and there really aren’t enough hours in the day - we coach the kids and then when back in the office there’s a million things to do.”

Appointed in May Gilligan, an ex-Watford and Cardiff City striker, has worked quickly to get a group of players in place but is aware that because they are starting from a blank canvas mistakes may be made and plans may have to be redrawn.

“We’ve got these players in and we will make some mistakes on players and with our judgements but it’s a difficult thing to do to fill all of these sides up and we know what we’re looking for,” Gilligan said.

“There are a number of players out there who will come here and do very well, and some who might not do so well but that’s what we have to deal with and make sure we get the best players we can.

“We have started off well in the league and the win over Wycombe was a great start. I was over at Barnet a week afterwards and Paul (Fairclough, ex-Stevenage boss and current Barnet Sports Development chief executive) said it was a result that made people sit up and think.

“We want the kids to learn how to win and it’s important at first team level and at youth level.

“Our biggest thing this year is to go in and to compete and to make sure every team we play knows they’ve been in a game for 90 minutes.

“We need to learn from the games we win and lose. We need to look at the positives from them, what we did and didn’t do and to develop these kids every day.

“We’ve got eight contracted full-time scholars and these players also go to college one day a week to improve on their education.

“The rest are made up of college students, young lads who I know from the likes of East London so you might not get them training all of the time so it can prove difficult.

“My aim is to produce players in the medium and long term for the football club. We’re not just sitting on our laurels with eight scholars and saying ‘that’s it, we’ve got them’. Mark and our scouting staff are going to games, speaking to people and trying to find the best players and improve what we’ve got.

“I don’t believe in bringing in like for like, I believe in bringing in better than what we’ve got.”

In addition to playing league and friendly matches, the scholars have also played training games with the first team and Gilligan believes this will also improve the players he has.

“We have a good relationship with the first team and the gaffer (Graham Westley) has been excellent.

“We play practice matches against them which is a great experience for the boys and the gaffer has spoken to the players and what he expects and it’s good for them to know he has a keen interest in them.”

Gilligan is working on a tight budget which must cover everything from his salary to the salary of his support staff, travel costs, accommodation and even catering for him and his players.

He is on the lookout for any individuals or businesses that may want to get involved either with ideas or financial backing as the season progresses.

“We need a number of things,” he said. “The kit is not yet sponsored, the minibus could do with some company coming in and having its name splashed on the side, there are boys travelling from London and it’s costing them money and maybe someone could help to sponsor them so they can get a season ticket.

“Any little ideas from anyone or anyone who has anything they can help us with I’d love them to get in touch and we would also look at ways that we can give something back.”

Anyone interested in contacting the Centre of Excellence should call (01438) 368068 and ask for administrator Kelly Andrews.

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