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Under-18s

Connell previews new U18s season

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Connell looks ahead to the 2020/21 season, which begins with a match at home to Portsmouth this Saturday.

With their pre-season programme now at an end, the youth team’s attentions have turned to their busy schedule in the EFL Youth Alliance for the new campaign.

Ahead of the big kick-off Connell joined afcb.co.uk to discuss the recent challenges, successes and his hopes for the season ahead.

PRE-SEASON CONCLUSIONS

It has been strange because for us, by the time the first weekend comes around we’ll have done seven weeks training, which is a little bit longer than usual.

We’ve built it up as we’ve gone along after such a long break for the players. We started off in stage one of training where it was quite technical and have then built up the intensity from there, getting into more opposed training as the weeks have gone on.

It’s been a different challenge for the staff and the players, but I’m really pleased with the boys. Their attitudes have been spot on and the quality in training has pleased me at times.

The real tests come in the games, with the quality of opposition that we’re playing against. I’ve seen some really good things from the players both individually and collectively.

APPROACH TO AN ALTERED SEASON

There’s no change in the expectations on the pitch, now we’ve had that long build up into the new season the players look ready again.

Initially the players took a bit of time to settle back in, which is understandable, but by our second week I felt they looked comfortable again. We’ve got the first years stepping up, some of them into a new club. There’s a lot going on in a young mind, a lot of change there in what’s been such an uncertain time.

That’s been difficult, then there’s the social side of it, making sure the players are happy, comfortable and ready to express themselves in our environment. The players have bought into it as they always do and the second years have helped the first years as well.

During the off season we had their physical programmes, Zoom meetings, analysis sessions and the strength and conditioning work. That hopefully helped to smoothen the transition into pre-season and now the season as we get going.

OPPORTUNITIES TO GRASP

This is the smallest group I’ve had in my years with the under-18s, and the under-21s have a lot of boys out on loan so they could be a little bit light as well at times.

That means the opportunity is there for both the under-16s to be around us, we’ve had a few of them with us in pre-season, and then we had five under-18s getting minutes for the under-21s against Brighton last week.

We want the best players and the ones that deserve to step up to have their chance and we don’t want to block pathways of players who are doing well and have the potential to kick on.

That’s the development job that we’re in and hopefully the club will see the benefits of that in the medium to long term.

AIMS FOR THE SEASON

We want to progress the individuals and produce players who are ready for and understand the AFC Bournemouth way. We want to do well in league again so we have to perform in that and in the cup competitions as well.

We want to be competitive and the boys need to understand that the closer they get to any first team there’s a competitive element for them to face both internally and externally.

There will be lots of challenges along the way but first and foremost our main focus is to improve the individual and hopefully prepare them for our first team.

FORMER U18S GIVEN PRE-SEASON CHANCE

Everyone takes great pride in seeing our young players do well – I like to think that we go the extra mile for the players.

Ultimately it will always come down to the individual and how far they want to progress, but it was nice to see that in the Benfica and West Ham games. It was a shame there wasn’t a crowd there, that would have made it even more special to experience that.

We’ve also had Nnamdi who played at Wembley and you take pride in seeing the players come through, hopefully we’ve given them the opportunity to go out and express themselves, showing what good players they are.

It’s nice to see and I know our supporters love to watch young players coming through our club, and while it’s great that they’re playing in friendlies we want them to be good enough to be regular players in our first team.

That’s a big challenge but one we have to face head on and embrace.

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