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Under-18s

U18 Season under Review with Connell

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Alan Connell looks back at his under-18 side’s season with the academy season brought to an early end due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Connell’s Cherries qualified for the Merit League in the second half of the campaign after topping their divison in the first half.

Away from the league, in the FA Youth Cup the under-18s made it past Barnet and Cardiff City before losing a thriller 3-2 to Millwall at Vitality Stadium.

Connell spoke to afcb.co.uk about the campaign and the ever-increasing standards required from the academy players at the club as they hope to carve out careers for themselves in the game.

CONNELL’S OVERVIEW

It has been a successful season. As a team, winning the Merit League was a good achievement for the players, showing a consistency which isn’t always easy with young players.

The FA Youth Cup run was a great experience for the players, even with the little things which make me love the Youth Cup so much, like preparing for an evening kick-off.

All our games are in the morning or early afternoons so when I spoke to the players about that they said how different that was and how all the nerves build up. I said to them that that’s hopefully what their careers will look like, half their games will be in the evenings and they’ll have to deal with that.

That’s why I love the Youth Cup so much because it gives the players a real understanding of hopefully what’s to come for them, with playing high-pressure football, which is what first-team football will look like. They’re great experiences and I’m really proud of the players’ achievements dealing with that and how they played in the matches.

Even in the high-pressure games we never changed our approach and stuck to our philisophy, no matter what the circumstances were. That’s really satisfying from my perspective.

RAISING STANDARDS

It’s been a really enjoyable season, I’ve loved working with the players and I hope that the second years who will now go on and progress with their careers can look back on their experiences and be better for them.

For the first years, most of them have had a decent season but as I’ve said to them, they’ve always got to strive to improve with everything they do on and off the pitch.

The bar’s being raised all the time at the club and in the Academy and as a staff we have to move with that and the players have got to reach certain levels to get to where they want to get to.

UNEXPECTED CURTAILMENT

With everything going on when the season was curtailed, it was a real shame for all the boys. A lot of the second years were out playing on loan in non-league and the first years and under-16s were starting to get a run of games in the Merit League, which we’d started really well in.

We’d beaten Oxford and would have gone top if we’d won our game in hand – but then the whole situation unfolded.

It was tough, it was a Friday morning the day it all became clear and after Mikel Arteta had said he had coronavirus the night before. I was going to training, delivering analysis on the game we were about to play against Northampton.

I was delivering it not really sure if I had the conviction in my voice because I knew that any minute the game was going to be called off and what might happen to our season – and we’ve seen what’s happened with that since.

LOOKING BACK WITH PRIDE

I look back on the season with a lot of pride and the reason for that is seeing how far the individuals have come, that’s ultimately what my job is and what the players want to do is improve.

I’m pleased with them, they’re part of a team and from that perspective they’ve come together really well, with the first and second years it changes every year but they’ve mixed really well and the team’s played some really good football which I’ve enjoyed watching.

They do things that can surprise me at times and have scored some lovely goals, defensively the desire and willingness to be hard to beat has been a feature that has impressed me as well.

There’s been a good blend this season and they’ve evolved well as a team and, more importantly, the evolution of the individuals has been really satisfying to witness.

I’m really excited to getting back to work , when it’s safe to do so, and get back to training, which is what I love to do.

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