IT is not just the senior squad at Inver Park who are working hard to stay sharp during this enforced lay off from football.
Football at every age group across the country continues to come to terms with the loss of matches and training schedules.
The development age groups at Inver Park, namely the under-20 and under-18 age groups, however continue to be put through their paces – on a virtual basis – by head coach Darrin Crawford (pictured above) and his coaching staff.
Darrin admits the sudden stop to a busy routine has also been a difficult situation to readjust to.
He also gives us insight into life for the development squads at Inver Park, and which players are gaining valuable experience with the senior squad.
“Our last training session was on the 11th March, which seems a long time ago,” Darrin admitted.
“From being in an environment of coaching a squad of 28 players, preparing for training and matches, to the actual match themselves, then analysing this collectively….to the complete opposite, is quite surreal!
“Certainly, from a manager’s point of view, it has gone from trying to squeeze everything in, as well as working in a full-time job, to having way too much time on my hands.
“We trained as a group Monday and Thursday nights, the under-20’s (Olympic squad) played on Wednesday and sometimes Saturday, the under-18’s played on a Friday night.
“The players have been given training plans since the lockdown – sent through our group chats – and I have varied these over the time we have been off.
“Obviously, it is more difficult for some to get the space to execute these sessions, but there’s lots covered in the session plans to accommodate this.
“I trust the players are getting on with this, and I know it must be very tough on teenagers being restricted, so training and fitness is fantastic for their wellbeing.
“The most important aspect here is for all the players and their families to remain safe in these extreme times.”
Like their senior counterparts, Darrin and his coaches have been in regular contact with the players under their care.
He is also working hard to make time for them to stay together as a group.
“All of the lads are fine, thankfully – we have regular check-ins with them,” he added.
“These are really tough times for the lads, their families and everyone really. I don’t think anyone can remember anything like this in my lifetime.
“Again, ensuring they all stick to their training plans, and trying to keep a routine of sorts can help break up the day.
“I have arranged a football quiz – we will setup a Zoom session on our scheduled training times, this is great for morale and certainly great for the lads to stay connected as part of our team spirit.”
It’s not just the players who have been impacted by the lack of football, with Darrin also finding it a strange period.
He said: “Like everyone else, the main focus here is to ensure we all stay safe and social distancing is so important to try and level the curve of this virus.
“Being involved in football most of my life, these are very strange times. You miss training, the games, the changing room banter.
“Even from watching football almost every day, either on the TV, or at the various grounds.
“I’m sure our fans are missing the first team playing, and all the social side of the match day, it’s all very surreal and certainly has had an effect on daily life.
“Unfortunately, this is a new reality for everyone. Let’s hope that we can all listen to the government advice and stay at home, to keep the essential workers safe so we can get back to some sort of normality soon.”
The enforced break in the season has, at least, given Darrin time to take stock of how the campaign has gone to date.
“Our under-18 squad have had an excellent season, the progress and development of these lads has been really inspiring and bodes well for next season,” he reflected.
“Both teams can change from week-to-week, players moving between teams, also changing positions, All the boys have stepped up and played their part as this is all part of their development.
“To date our under-18 side are three points clear at top of their league and are in the semi-final of the Cup.
“We are always looking on ways to improve as coaches both on and off the field and think the game has moved on a lot as regards to player psychology and player management.
“This break has given me a chance to further enhance my skillset with self and group management. Hopefully I get to put this into action soon
“With our under-20 (Olympic) squad moving into the Premier Development League this season, this was a big step up for such a young squad.
“This league is played mid-week, mainly on a Wednesday night, most teams will play four or five overage players, from their first team.
“Because our squad is so young, I feel there will be a major improvement by the team for next season, having this season’s experience under their belts will serve us well.
“As with most young squads, consistency has been the real issue this season, however I know that these lads are more than a match for any of these teams in the league.
“Having beaten teams such as Linfield and Glentoran the challenge for next season is to try to get that consistency to maintain the level of play to deliver results week to week.
“Currently in the league, our under-20’s sit in 8th place.
“The facilities at the club are fantastic and the development squad make full use of the gym on training nights.
“The squad’s gym plan was developed by the first team’s Head Sports Thearpist Michael O’Boyle, to ensure the boys have access to the same quality of training and preparation as the first team.
“We make good use of the Agnew Suite on match days for the team talks and match analysis but also just as important for the lads to chill out before the games.
“We have the best surface in the country for training and playing on and all the right ingredients to make this an exciting time to be involved with Larne FC.”
The proof of progress being made within the development ranks is the number of players who have caught the eye of senior boss Tiernan Lynch.
Understandably, this gives Darrin and the other coaches immense satisfaction.
“From a development squad manager/coach, the real trophies are not winning leagues and cups, they are seeing your players being promoted to the first team squad,” he said.
“We have had a few players involved with the first team, goalkeeper McKenzie Pauley, made his debut away to Institute, at the age of 16, which was fantastic.
“Matthew Herron, Luke Harrison and Owen Barrons have all worked hard this season and earned first team experiences.
“Matt has been on the bench a few times; all of these lads are under 20’s and have had a great season.
“Matthew Kerr has had the opportunity of some first team experience and has been in training with Tiernan’s squad for the past few months.
“So overall the development squad is progressing well, we may or may not get back to football to finish the season, but the overriding most important ingredient here is to abide with the government advice.
“Football and sport in general is a very important aspect of our very being and the quicker we can get back to this the better – stay safe Everyone #RAWA.”