RTID, Rovers Matchday Magazine, sat down with Head of Youth Paul Wilson to review the first part of the season for the Rovers U18s.
Paul, the Youth Team is now mid-way through the season. What is your assessment of the team’s performance so far?
The lads have worked extremely hard since July. We went to Sweden to take part in the Gothia Cup, and this gave an opportunity for everyone to get to know one another. The season started at the beginning of August, and to being unbeaten in the league at the end of November is a massive achievement.
You have taken the team to Sweden for a few years now, how important is that to your overall preparation for the season?
It’s a tough competition in Sweden. We have lads of 15 and 16 playing in the Under 19 section, and it really helps to build them up, develop confidence and team spirit. We have been there three successive years now and it’s extremely worthwhile.
How did your involvement with the Gothia Cup Tournament first come about?
I happened to meet one of the organisers and he invited us to take part. It is partly funded, and I think it is very worthwhile for our preparation; that’s why we have been three times now, and I’m sure we will do so in the future.
When they return from that I suppose they are all fit and ready for the start of the season.
Yes, the lads are given a programme of fitness to follow over the summer break, and we come back to full training a few weeks early in order to get ready for Sweden.
What was your early perception of the group of lads you were going to work with this season?
We knew that we had a very young squad this season, but the Sweden tournament showed that they were very committed and willing to ‘have a go’. That’s how they started the season, which was good, and although there have been times when we weren’t the best team on the pitch, the lads have shown real determination and a willingness to really compete. If you’re prepared to work hard and ‘have a go’ it can get you along way in football.
There’s certainly a lot of ability within the squad, and Evan Finnegan has already played for his country (Republic of Ireland) at Under 18 level. That’s a massive achievement isn’t it?
Evan was invited last year to go to training camp with the national side, and he has been watched by the selectors this season. Evan has thoroughly deserved his chance, and he recently played two matches against Switzerland. The reports back have been extremely good, and we are all pleased for him.
When a player receives such recognition, does it help you in your motivation and development of the rest of the squad?
Absolutely. There are always incentives for the lads to work hard. In addition to international call ups there’s also the real possibility of being called up by Dean for the first team squad.
Harry Middleton is one member of the squad about whom Dean speaks very highly; tell us a bit about him.
Harry is a local lad from Hatfield, with lots of ability. The previous manager liked him very much. Harry’s pushed on this year, showing lots of skill and natural ability. The manager’s already had him on the bench a few times this season, along with Jordan Binns and Josh Meade. Alex Peterson is another big, strong lad at centre forward who leads the line well and works extremely hard for the team. He’s another one who is hopefully going to come through as well.
How much of a confidence boost is it to the lads when they see the progress which someone like James Husband has made recently?
It’s a great confidence boost. When we see the progress of James, and Jordan Ball and Jon Maxted it gives everybody around the club a great lift
Obviously, you are pleased with the lads’ performance so far this season. Did you envisage them being unbeaten for so long, in the league, when you were assessing them at the start of the season?
I think they have massively over-achieved. I didn’t predict that, although you always hope that you will do well. There have been games when we have ‘ridden our luck’, and with seven or eight first year lads in the squad it was never going to be easy. In addition, we have picked up a few serious injuries to Chris Whinchop and Louis Ferguson, and they will be out until after Christmas, having already missed most of the season. That makes it even harder for the lads, so it’s a massive plus that they have done as well as they have so far this season.
Is that an indication that the crop of players is getting better season after season?
It’s taken us a few years to get to this standard, but now we have got players featuring with the first team squad and also gaining international recognition. Every year we hope to get better; we pick up players at a younger age, and players with better ability. Hopefully, everyone can see that things are going really well at Doncaster Rovers, and more youngsters are keen to come and play for us.
How do you approach the second half of the season having gone through the first half unbeaten in the League? What do you tell the players?
We have regular sessions discussing what we have achieved and how we have achieved it, and we will be continuing to do so over the Christmas period. The lads will definitely be giving everything they’ve got on the pitch, showing lots of commitment, and we will just see how things go in the second half of the season.
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