Derry City's Paddy McCourt praises SSE Airtricity National U-13 League
It has been an incredible inaugural season for the SSE Airtricity National U-13 League and it has drawn considerable praise from Derry City Academy Director and U-13 Head Coach Paddy McCourt.
One of the most technically-gifted footballers to grace the SSE Airtricity League, the former Celtic midfielder is working with the very best homegrown talent in Derry to help produce the next crop for the Candystripes, after his retirement last year.
The season has progressed to the final stages of the competition and it has seen the likes of Mayo League, Monaghan-Cavan and Klub Kildare all qualify for league stage, alongside Derry City.
Speaking to FAI TV ahead of their fixture against Monaghan-Cavan in Cootehill, McCourt believes the league has afforded the children an 'important education'.
"It's the first season of the league for everyone, and for me personally, it's been a great success. I'm sure if you asked the players, parents and coaches, we've all really enjoyed it and we can see the progression the players are making," said McCourt.
"We try and do it as professionally as we can so they know what's needed to be a professional footballer and how a professional footballer should eat, train and travel.
"We want them to be children to and enjoy themselves but they're also getting an important education on how they prepare for a game and recover after it."
It isn't only having an impact on the pitch. The SSE Airtricity National U-13 League gives the players their first involvement with SSE Airtricity League clubs, and academy players around the country now attend fixtures every week.
At Derry, all academy players get into the Brandywell Stadium for free and McCourt believes that is vitally important for their development, and has also praised the overall quality of the league.
"What has been very encouraging for myself, as someone who is also involved in the first team, is the amount of academy players you see at the Brandywell on match-day now. They all get in for free and by them watching the first-team, it gives them the extra drive to succeed," says McCourt.
"If I was a young lad starting out now, maybe I'd think twice about moving away to England. Everything is in place here now to get a good apprenticeship in the game and go on to be a professional footballer.
"The quality across the league has been exceptional. We've played the likes of Bray, Pats and Mayo League, and the standard was excellent. For the players to be testing themselves against the best week-in, week-out, it is only going to make them better. The best should be playing against the best and that's happening now."