Menaul banking on local talent

Gayle Adams, Ballymoney and Alex Graham, Randalstown
Gayle Adams, Ballymoney and Alex Graham, Randalstown

Randalstown coach David Menaul insists that the future development of clubs here will be best served by a reliance on home grown talent rather than looking to the transfer market.

His own club provides an example of how a thriving youth policy can reap dividends although it is a long term project by definition as opposed to a quick fix.

‘Town have had a better season so far than the last one although his predominantly young side have had their ups and downs.

Twice they have drawn with Pegasus and Ballymoney yet they went down 7-0 to Queen’s and were held 1-1 by struggling Portadown.

Yet Menaul has been pleased with the progress that has been made as his young players have been learning from the top flight experience.

“The main reason we have been doing better is that the younger girls are a year older and a year wiser to the demands of Premier League hockey,” he explained.

“They have undoubted quality and the more game time they have at this level the more they will improve individually and as a team.

“The senior players in our squad have also really stepped up to the mark this season - Emma Knox has been leading by example on and off the pitch.

“Katherine Elkin is showing why she was involved in the Irish set up a few years ago and Emily Reid although only 19 herself has been the senior figure in our front line and is setting a great example for the younger players.

“I put our up and downs to purely experience. Against Queens we just didn’t turn up - they played really well on the night but we made it very easy for them which is not like us at all as we pride ourselves on hard work and being hard to play against.

“Portadown was a strange game as we feel we did enough on the day to win the game. We had a high number of chances but didn’t take them. In any sport if you don’t take your chances you will end up being punished.

“I think with Pegasus and Ballymoney the girls approached these games with the attitude of no one expects us to get a positive result so let’s give it a real go.

“They were three big games for us which give the girls a lot of confidence which we have tried to continue on with it.

“To show how young a team we are we had to postpone a league game against Ards as we had seven members of the 1st XI squad away with either the under 16s or 18s inter pro teams.”

Menaul would probably see Lurgan as a collective role model for what can be achieved through nurturing home grown talent.

They came of age with a shock 4-1 defeat of Pegasus last weekend and ironically former Pegs player Shelley Sloan was one of the few Lurgan players who came from an outside club.

Ballymoney, too, pride themselves on their youth policy and they have been the most successful side in the province bar Pegasus in recent years.

Following Saturday’s results and some of those which went before it is shaping up to be the closest title race for well over a decade.

And the ‘Town coach sees youth policies as the way forward both in the top flight and in the second tier of senior hockey here.

“In the Premier League alone the competition between the teams seems to be getting closer each year as various results have suggested but there still remains a larger gap if not a growing gap between the Premier League and Senior One,” David added.

“The standards within Ulster Hockey and the increase in the number of teams competing for Wildcard and Irish Hockey League places will only grow if individual clubs continue to develop their own players through their youth systems rather than take them from others.

“This in turn should help develop the number of Ulster teams challenging for Irish trophies and international call ups.

“From our point of view the ambition is to develop as a team and break into the top four and gain a regular place in the IHL.

“After we achieve these we will reassess again. But these things will take time but it’s an ambition that the club are very keen to achieve.”