Academy Manager Delighted With Progress
Ciaran Donnelly is full of pride when he looks back on 2016 from a youth and academy point of view.
The Seasiders' academy manager, who has watched the likes of Bright Osayi-Samuel, Myles Boney and Macauley Wilson progress as professionals, has overseen a fantastic start to the season with the youth team and is full of optimism moving forward.
"We're second in the league going in to Christmas and the New Year and we're pushing to hopefully win the league," he said. "We're in the Lancashire Cup semi-final - which we got to the final of last season - and we're in the Youth Alliance Cup semi-final. It's been a real good year - I think our record reads 12 wins, three draws and three defeats so far."
The style of those victories has been particularly pleasing, with the youth team and academy overall now having a set identity when it comes to playing football.
"We're the top scorers in the league and although we'd like to concede less, we've got the best goal difference because we've played some great football. We've been able to play some lovely, passing football.
"This is a philosophy that we tried to nail down four or five years ago when myself and Richie first came in to the jobs with John Murphy. It's something we've tried to nail down throughout the academy.
"It's probably fair to say that we're seeing the benefits of that now because we've got players in our youth team who are comfortable playing the style of football we've been trying to embed into the academy. It seems to be coming together.
"There is the other side, particularly in the winter months, and it's been pleasing in the last six weeks when the weather and the pitches have changed that we've battled and competed with teams and won our last five matches. We're looking good going into the new year."
The aim for Donnelly is to develop more professional footballers in 2017 and he's excited by the potential of his youth players.
"This under-18 team is technically, without doubt, the best team we've had," he admitted. "We've got 19 players in that group and a good chunk of them have got a real opportunity to make a career in football. Whether they do or not is up to them, but normally you don't have that many players at youth team level with the potential to go on and have a career. We've got that.
"It'll be interesting to see what happens in the second half of the season - and into next season for the first years who become second years - to see what they can do and how they can progress."