Chesterfield academy coach Darren Molloy is looking forward to taking his under-11s to the Mayo International Cup in Ireland this weekend, a tournament that they won last year.
The tournament, previously only available to under 16s, gives youngsters the opportunity to experience the life of a professional footballer.
Molloy, the foundation phase lead coach, said: “We beat Millwall in the final last year, which was brilliant and hopefully this year they can go and do themselves proud again.
“Last year we learned a lot about the kids, both on and off of the pitch, the group really improved socially and had even more of a bond when we came back. It was a great experience that they still all talk about.
“There was some fantastic football on display and we grew our reputation as a club, so much so that we have been invited back. With the kids being a year older, it makes the tournament a little more serious, too.”
Chesterfield will be the only English representatives at the nine-a-side tournament and will come up against Northern Ireland and Scotland, along with a variety of district teams from the Republic of Ireland.
Molloy, who hails from Ireland, spoke of the differing style of football in Ireland and the challenges that this brings: “It is a much raw way of playing football in Ireland. It is a lot more physical, so coming from an academy in England where the football is maybe of a nicer nature, it does take them a few matches to get used to the physicality of the match.
“We tend to be technically better and dominate for periods of the game, but then it is how we can handle the other side of the game which is equally as important. The main difference for me is that it is competition and it is about winning.
“It is about sleeping right, eating right and drinking right, preparing themselves properly for matches and having that professional football lifestyle for a weekend as an 11/12 year-old.
“It will be interesting to see how different young kids step up to the mark and how they handle the pressure and show the desire to win games. There are four games in the group and then the top two play in a final in the afternoon.
“The Friday will primarily be about getting there. We have a training session that night at the venue to ensure that the kids are familiar with the surroundings and then Saturday is an all football day before coming back on Sunday morning.”
Molloy’s younger sides have also been invited to a number of other tournaments abroad in what promises to be an exciting season.
“This is probably the first of a few competitions that we will be doing across the academy this year,” he said.
“Last week our under-9s and under-10s were invited to a tournament in Belgium. This will feature teams such as RSC Anderlecht, FC Twente and Schalke and to be mixing with those kind of teams is fantastic for Chesterfield and a great opportunity for the kids.
“Mayo got the ball rolling and now we are being provided with a number of opportunities elsewhere. Teams see that Chesterfield — a category three club — have got really good players and can compete against really strong opposition.
“The main thing is giving the children an opportunity and a memory that they will remember, giving them something new with the competition factor and for them to mix well as a team. It also allows us as coaches to get to see the other sides of the kids that you don’t always get to see.”