Academy coach Neil McCafferty praises Derry City's structures

Derry City under 14 Academy coach Neil McCafferty believes the Brandywell club are providing a perfect platform for both players and coaches.​
Derry City Academy coach Neil McCafferty is on his knees watching his side during the Foyle Cup. Pictures by Martin Coyle/The Jungle View BoysDerry City Academy coach Neil McCafferty is on his knees watching his side during the Foyle Cup. Pictures by Martin Coyle/The Jungle View Boys
Derry City Academy coach Neil McCafferty is on his knees watching his side during the Foyle Cup. Pictures by Martin Coyle/The Jungle View Boys

​McCafferty, who admits he only started coaching because his good friend, Paddy McCourt, invited him to get involved in his ‘Talent and Development Academy’ a few years ago, describes the help that youth team players and coaches receive from the Candy Stripes as “second to none”. He’s also full of praise for current first team manager, Ruaidhrí Higgins and his back-room team for the support they’ve shown him since coming on board at the club.

The former Coleraine, Portadown and Dungannon Swifts midfielder believes his home town club are well set up to continue producing players not just for the first team but for further afield, with Liverpool’s Trent Kone-Doherty a perfect example.

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"I finished playing about five years ago and I'll be honest, I didn't really want to coach. I had three young kids so I had no real interest in coaching, but Paddy (McCourt), who's a good friend, had an academy going and asked me to try it out. I have to admit, as soon as I started I really enjoyed it," he explained.

"Look, it's not like playing but once you start coaching the bug gets you and I continued to work at that academy until I ended up coming into Derry at U14 level. That was around four seasons ago with the 2006s squad. Young Trent Kone Doherty, now at Liverpool, was in my first age group and I've been with the U14's every since.

"It's all about producing players for Derry City. My mantra is not about producing teams. Yes we want to win and play well, but if we win the U14 league but none of those kids end up as footballers in five years, then what does it matter?

"I tell the boys to aim for the stars which is England, the Premier League, Scotland or wherever and if you can get into the current Derry City team, especially the way they're playing under Ruaidhrí Higgins, then you're doing well. That can only help your chances of moving across the water or even staying with Derry and having an incredible career.

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"The only way to get better is coach loads and make your mistakes, of which I’ve made loads, but take your time. I go up to the first team training and I chat with Ruaidhrí quite a bit. I watch their training and I chat with Alan Reynolds and people like Conor Loughrey, who is a very good coach. I talk to all those guys, take notes and listen to those people.

"Yes, eventually I would like to manage at senior level but I definitely don't want to take anything too early. I want to make sure I'm ready to do it."

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The 38-year-old revealed at his age group the emphasis is still on technique before talking tactics and said he warns his players they must show the right desire and work-rate if they harbour hopes of settling in the game at either Derry or further afield. Indeed, he uses Derry’s two Republic of Ireland internationals, James McClean and Shane Duffy, as examples of local players who have had superb careers for both club and country.

"With my age group I try to make them technically good," he added. "Can they receive the ball? Can they pass? That’s before we go into tactical stuff because I think that's where we struggle as a country. We're definitely behind a lot of the other countries technically and the smaller countries now in Europe are also starting to get ahead of us in that regard.

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"I work a lot on technique; first touch, body shape, passing, weight of pass and all that stuff and then when they get to that level we move onto some other stuff.

"To be honest a lot of kids now struggle to ping a ball properly because everything is short passes and dribbles. Young kids just don't go out and ping a ball with their left foot and right foot anymore. We tell all the lads that training a few nights a week and playing at the weekend isn't enough, we want them to practice all the time because practise makes perfect at anything.

"The young lads at Derry now are very lucky to have people who have played the game, who have done their coaching badges and are now taking the underage teams. These young lads have top quality ex-players to learn off through from U14s right the way through to U19s.

"To make it as a player, especially now, heart and desire are two massive qualities that you have to have. Talent will only get you so far in this game. There are only certain few players who can use their talent to get so far.

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"James McClean is the prime example and even Shane Duffy. I didn't see these lads as they're younger than me but people are always telling me that at Under 13 and 14 you would never have picked them out as the best players on the pitch. However hard work and dedication, particularly in James' case, has brought its rewards. He’s just kept his head down, done his own stuff and got better and better.

“A lot of the time it's the silver medallist that becomes the star. It's not the gold medallists from a young age and the game has changed a lot. The days of the Jan Mølby's, who maybe got away with carrying a bit of weight but still played at the highest level, those days are gone.

"All players now are ‘machines’, even when you go and watch Derry City train or watch them play, the speed that they're moving is something else.

"So it's all about your attitude, about what you eat and your dedication to be on time. What you’re doing when you're not at the training ground is so important and we try to get that into the young players’ minds.

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"When we travel there's no junk food, no fizzy drinks. We provide them with pre-match meals and make sure they're eating the right things, just to give them all a bit of an inkling what it's like to play senior football here at Derry or across the water. That's the process that we're trying to build."