Ciaran Donnelly wants Fleetwood Town’s academy players to take a simple message from 16-year-old James Hill’s senior debut at Leicester City last week: It could be you.
It’s a proud time for the head of Town’s academy after Hill became the youngest ever player to feature for the first team in the League Cup defeat at Premier League Leicester’s King Power Stadium.
Donnelly says the challenge now is to make sure this is not a one-off and Hill must knuckle down to earn more after his first taste of senior action.
Donnelly said: “We all know that it was the League Cup. Is he going to be playing for the first team this weekend? No, of course not.
“But the message it sends to other players at the club and their parents is, like the manager says: ‘If you are good enough you are old enough’.
“The big thing for us is that three months ago James was training as part of the Under-16s three nights a week here, so all the parents and all the younger players know him.
“They know that with a bit of hard work, luck and the right attitude they could potentially make their debut against a side that won the Premier League a couple of years ago.
“The key for us is to make sure James stays grounded. We did that by getting him in the next day, making sure he cleaned his boots and trained with the U18s.
“There is no doubt he has great potential and we are really excited about where he might be able to go in the game.
“He comes from good stock with his dad having been a professional footballer (Matt Hill). He has a lot going for him and we want to nurture him in the right way. If we do that and with this manager giving him the right opportunities, we think he could be a very good player.”
Town’s Northern Ireland U17 captain Dylan Boyle also made the trip to Leicester with the squad and Donnelly said: “Dylan travelled on the strength of how dedicated and professional he is.
“The example he has shown to the other players has given him this opportunity. He is one of a number of players we are excited about.”
Town’s U18s are managed by Simon Wiles, like Donnelly a former Blackpool player, and the Cod Army are invited to watch the team take on Shrewsbury at 11am this Saturday at Poolfoot Farm.
Donnelly added: “We would encourage people to come and watch. It is a great facility and we have the best pitch in the league. The only problem is the wind sometimes! They are a good set of lads. They are honest, work hard and nobody watching would ever think they were prima donnas.
“The more people go to watch, the better the occasion becomes for the players. They are desperate to do well. How many will get through? We will see.”