Cardiff City FC Academy Manager James McCarthy spoke with cardiffcity.co.uk this week ahead of the first PDL2 fixture against Colchester United for our U18 side this Saturday and the U23's opener against Burnley on Monday at Turf Moor.
“We’re ready for the new season now,” James began. “All preparations are nearly finished, and it’s been a busy period across all age groups, but pre-season has been very productive and effective this year.
“A lot of the boys have been with us for a long time now, so they are many years into their journey at the Club. The U9 squad have taken a little bit of time to get familiar with everything as a lot of their sessions took place at the House of Sport, but all age groups have made good progress across pre-season again.
“We’ve had some really good results during pre-season, with our U13 side beating Liverpool and our U18 side also picking up wins against Leicester City and West Ham. In addition to this, our U16 squad put in a really good performance against West Ham. Overall, the results have been very good across all age groups.”
Cardiff City’s younger age groups will also benefit from the Club’s promotion to the Premier League, with bigger opportunities being given from U9-U15.
“There’s lots more festivals and competitions run by the Premier League, which now we get invited to. So, for our younger boys to go and test themselves against the Category One Academies like Manchester City, Manchester Utd and Chelsea, that’s going to be a brilliant experience for them this season.”
Craig Bellamy has added eight new scholars to his U18 squad ahead of the 2018/19 season, with all players signing two-year deals at the club.
“We’ve signed six scholars from within and it's always pleasing to be able to give the boys who have been with you for a long time the reward of a scholarship. We’ve recruited the other two from Southampton who weren’t offered deals there, and then we’ve picked them up.
“The recruitment process has been good. We looked at various other alternatives and options before the end of the season, but we feel we have a good mix of first-years from both internal and external recruitment ahead of the season.”
The 2017/18 campaign was a successful season for Craig Bellamy’s side, with a third-placed finish in the league and runners-up in the FAW Youth Cup after an agonizing 3-2 loss on penalties against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.
“Hopefully we can build on last season, which was a massive step forward for the group on and off the pitch. The players developed very well technically through the work that Craig and Matthew have done with them, but they’ve also developed very well socially in terms of the rules and standards that were set.
“Our target every season is to make sure that we’re the best in Wales, and the best way to do that is to go and win that competition. We had a very young team and squad that represented us in the final against Swansea, but despite that we were proud of their efforts and they were very close to achieving that goal.
“Obviously, we want to be domestically dominant, so that means we’ve got to go and challenge for the FAW Youth Cup again and try to do everything to win the competition.”
The U23 squad again joined our First Team this summer in touring Devon & Cornwall, and James explained that the experience was great for the players to be around the first-team.
“I think it’s always good to be close to the first-team and to get that group especially close to them, so they’ve experienced pretty much the same schedule in terms of the games that the first-team had.
“The games have obviously come thick and fast, which has helped with their pre-season preparations and got them all up to match fitness very quickly.
“Off the back of that then, James Waite plays really well in front of the manager and is rewarded with his debut against Rotherham for the First Team, that’s enough of a benefit regardless.
“You must have that pathway in place, not just for the players in the U23 setup, but also the U18 and U16 age groups. They have to see that there is progress at the football club, whether that be internally or externally like Mark Harris has done now by going on loan to get first-team experience at Newport County.”