"Raising the bar" is the strapline of the new Ballinamallard United FC Academy which was launched on Sunday night at the Westville Hotel, Enniskillen by the club's Head Coach Whitey Anderson in front of over 200 young players, their families and guests who included former Mallard youth star and current Northern Ireland No. 1 goalkeeper Roy Carroll.
Another former product of the club's youth system 29 year-old Derek Sharpe is the new Academy Director at Ferney Park and he will be responsible for delivering a range of initiatives which are designed to build on the successful coaching structure which has seen Ballinamallard become the most advanced youth set up in the Fermanagh & Western region since it was formed in 1989.
The club can boast many local firsts over the last quarter of a century from sending Fermanagh teams to the Mid Ulster and National Youth Leagues to winning Foyle Cup, NI Boys FA, IFA Youth Cup and IFA Youth League titles, and not least being the most successful club in the history of the Brendan Keogh Youth League.
Ballinamallard United FC has also produced over two dozen Northern Ireland Youth and Junior internationals, and the impact of its progressive youth policy over the course of more than two decades has directly led to it becoming the first Fermanagh club to achieve Irish League status and to reach the pinnacle of club football in Northern Ireland by earning promotion to the Premiership.
The emphasis of the club's new Academy will be 'raising the bar' even higher in the provision of a pathway for its young players from starting to learn the game at its award-winning Mini Soccer Centre, which will be 20 years old next year, to developing progressively at each age level by playing competitively in the BKYL, NYL, and earning selection for NI Development squads.
Ultimately players who come through the club's carefully structured coaching programme will have the chance to play semi-professional Irish League football, and potentially move on - as Premier League and FA Cup winner Roy Carroll himself did - to professional football in England, Scotland and further afield and ultimately to win senior international honours.
It's not only player development that the new Academy at Ferney Park will focus on. Director Derek Sharpe will also seek opportunities to provide top quality coach education as the Academy will encourage and facilitate the club's coaches to maximise their qualifications and improve their skills through participation in the highest level IFA and UEFA coaching diplomas.
Head Coach Whitey Anderson is excited by the renewed focus, in this the club's 40th anniversary year, on maintaining and strengthening its position as the only coaching structure locally that provides a pathway from mini soccer to the top flight of Irish League football as well as its unparalleled capacity to assist players towards youth international and professional football.
"Looking back over the last two decades I'm very proud of what the youth section has achieved. For example, my own team brought the first BKYL titles to the club, the likes of John Quinn's team produced half a dozen youth internationals, whilst we had successful teams in the Mid Ulster such as Brian Khan's 1990s and Noel Dykes's '93s and the club won two Irish Youth Cups. Furthermore in Mervyn Smyth we have had someone who is widely accepted as one of the best youth administrators in the country, and a family liaison unit like Hazel Haveron and her team that is second to none.
Now our new Academy will capitalise on the enthusiasm, experience and new ideas of the next generation of dynamic young coaches and administrators from the Fermanagh area such as Derek himself who runs the IFA Youth League team and will be a fantastic Academy Director; Andy McCutcheon who led his '98s to become the first ever year group to win the full set of BKYL silverware from Mini Soccer Blitz to Under 16; and Sam Gamble who has led a Foyle Cup winning team and coached 3 members of his squad to be selected for the NI Under 15 Development Squad.
Experienced coaches like Denzil McDaniel, Jackie Palmer, Wesley Warrington & Richard McBride coupled with innovative coaches like Joe Corcoran whose 2003s recently won the prestigious Barcelona Cup, and Nigel Frazer whose 2004s have maintained the recent tradition of the club winning titles each year since the introduction of the U11s competition by the BKYL, have much to offer the club for years to come, and there are more like them coming through in the younger mini soccer age groups.
The Academy will be an institution for higher learning, therefore, it will invest in our current and new coaches and help to teach and upskill them in the latest techniques so that they in turn can develop young players from mini soccer right throughout the entire youth structure at the club and along the pathway to success, wherever it takes them."
For further details on the Ballinamallard United FC Academy contact the Director Derek Sharpe on firstname.lastname@example.org