A Trip To Leeds !
Last week saw a travelling party of five coaches and four players attend the Leeds
Academy in Thorp Arch, Leeds. It is a dream of every player to play in England, and
two girls Chloe Quirke and Leah Joyce and two boys Ronan Jennings and Daire
McCarthy fulfilled that dream early in life ! All four had the envious task of attending
the academy for the week, to see the daily life of a professional footballer, and how a
professional footballer is manufactured!

Departing in the early hours 4.30am on Wednesday morning 16th November, it was
pretty bleak, rain, rain and more rain! Each child wondered what was in store in the
coming days, lots of questions, lots of excitement and some trepidation!  Galway -
Dublin - Leeds – and a lost Colm Brannigan during car hire eventually saw us on the
way to Thorp Arch. (It might be added it happened on more than one occasion!).

But boy god did Thorp Arch and this trip live up to its billing!
Countless pitches, astro turfs indoor and outdoors, gyms, stretching area, media rooms,
physical therapy rooms, hydro therapy baths ,…….a whole new world, not to mention a
whole new vocabulary ….. strength and conditioning for u8s, individual ball drills, team
drills, professional players, with an often mentioned Land Rover Vogue / Sport,  or some
variation of a top of the range Mercedes coming into the conversation, as it passed us by.  Strangely these cars were being driven by young looking lean men, the signature mark of a  professional footballer who has made it…………..indeed each of the children could see themselves driving similar vehicles! 

However, the achievement of such trophy cars is not easy and is the culmination of hard
work in the academy! All academies need to be well structured, like a well drilled organised army. The Leeds army was no different, and the man that runs the Leeds Smallies Academy is Andy Wood, a man who can only infect you with his enthusiasm for the game of soccer and what he can teach the young children in the academy.
Scene set, …….for the children it was down to business. The girls were off to Doncaster Bells,  a Premier League ladies club, for a two hour session, which was mind numbing for its intensity!  Joe Mullan and Dana Joyce have returned with some new ideas, save to say the Athenry girls might find themselves a bit more exercised in the future weeks. 

The boys had their first session, only three hours 5-8 pm! Safe to say, after day one, they were appreciative of the softer coaching styles that might be canvassed in Moanbaun on a Monday evening! This was repeated only three times in the week, and it is further save to say that the boys were exhausted, but not at all overawed by their experiences. They were technically as good, but maybe not as used to the stength and conditioning requirements that form part of a professional footballers make up. This is one area that probably our club should try and strategically plan, beginning with simple exercises at the under eights ages, and planned accordingly until they reach under eighteen.

The days were filled with football, football and more football. Our host Jason Blunt manages the u23 Leeds team, and we saw that team play Birmingham on Thursday before the children’s training. On Friday he took two hours out of his day to complete an individual session with each of our players! Indeed, Jason’s son Conor Blunt is a scholar in the academy at u15, and he endeavoured to answer any or all questions he could about academy life. 

The girls trained with Leeds Ladies on Thursday evening, and they got a further education, as to the standards that need to be achieved to reach the pinnacle of this sport. The girls got on so well, they decided that they would go and see Liverpool play Leeds ladies on the Saturday morning, while the boys went to see an excellent footballing game between the Darren Ferguson managed Doncaster Rovers and Hartlepool. The week was flying and we felt we‘d hardly arrived. Sunday morning saw us see some of the senior players training with Jason, and then it was off to Elland Road for Newcastle v Leeds, a sell out with 36,000 fans!

It was a fascinating and enthralling trip! I had asked my host Jason Blunt, one simple request, please ensure these children are tired after every day, each day bringing a new adventure and new insight into a footballer’s life. In short, I cannot fault him, as I pulled off the motor way late on the Sunday evening into Athenry, there was silence in my car, two young children throwing ZZZZZZZs in the back seat, the first time there was silence in five days!

From Chloe Quirke, Leah Joyce, Ronan Jennings, Daire McCarthy, Joe Mullan, Colm Brannigan, Dana Joyce, Pat Gavin and Cormac McCarthy……………….. this trip will always bring some treasured memories, and we cannot express our gratitude to our host Jason Blunt and Leeds United for affording our club this wonderful opportunity.