Mansfield Town Academy manager John Dempster had nothing but praise for Stags’ starlets that clinched the Football League Youth Alliance title last weekend.
He also said that, whether they went on to make it in the game or not, he felt they had showed an attitude that would see them succeed in any walk of life and the club, town and their parents should be very proud of them.
It was an amazing end to a first season for Dempster and his staff, working on implementing the national Player Progression Pathway at the picturesque Brooksby College at Melton Mowbray.
Dempster said: “Early on we recognised we had a good bunch of lads who were willing to go through brick walls for us.
Click HERE to read about the Stags Academy at Brooksby and how it works
Click HERE to read about Stags’ Youth League title win
“Realistically should we have gone on to win the league? Probably not in our first year.
“But full credit to all the Academy staff who have worked extremely hard, and essentially full credit has to go to the players as they are the ones who do the business on a Saturday.
“You often hear the argument about whether it should be about development or winning when it comes to youth football.
“In my opinion it’s important to create a winning environment as essentially the next step for these boys is going into the first team environment if they are successful where winning is everything.
“We’ve taken a few knocks along the way this season and we’ve learned from them. But all in all it’s been an unbelievable season and it’s been an absolute privilege to be part of it.
“I have learned loads. There have been loads of lot of ups and downs. I think a lot of people from the outside may look at it and think ‘they’ve cruised that’ – it’s been far from a cruise. It’s been long hours and plenty of obstacles we’ve had to come over.
“But, in the main, it’s been such a rewarding season for the whole group to not just win the league but also see the lads develop the way they have, as they really have been a credit to themselves, the football club and their parents.”
Dempster also praised the youngsters’ hard work in the gym.
“I’ve actually seen them grown physically in front of my eyes from a week to week basis,” he said. “They’ve embraced the strength and conditioning facilities here at the college.
“You only have to look at some of the footage of them celebrating afterwards with their tops off, I don’t remember looking like that at 16!
“They have really bought into what we are trying to do here and whether they go on to play in our first team or go into non-league route, or whether they decide football is not for them at the end of the two years, I could only guarantee them one thing. That was if they bought in 100 per cent that they’d develop – and as a group they’ve done that.”
So how many of the youngsters does Dempster feel can go on and make a living from the game?
“I think probably a very high percentage of them,” he said. “A lot of that will be determined by themselves, what path they want to go down as time goes on as they are all different characters.
“But if they adopt the kind of attitude they have done over the last 9-10 months I am sure they will be successful in whatever they choose to do, whether it be football or anything else.
“If you approach life how they have and give the commitment they have, in my opinion you’ll be successful.”
No plans have been made yet as to if the side will have their trophy in time or be given the chance to show it off before Saturday’s final first team game at home to Cambridge United.
Dempster said: “I’ve not spoken to the directors or the manager about the plans for this Saturday. We’ll definitely be at the game.
“Hopefully we’ll have the silverware there to show off to the supporters. I know the lads would be ecstatic to be in and around the first team on Saturday and get a feel for what it’s like on a matchday.
“If we can be a part of Saturday and have a chance to show the supporters what we’ve won I am sure it will be a great experience for the boys.”
Not in his wildest dreams did Dempster believe the first season could bring such a successful end.
“It sets a precedent that we do things properly here,” he said. “Yes, it’s about developing footballers, yes it’s about getting boys into the first team.
“I think there would have been quite a few questions asked by people when they heard the club was entering the PPP system. If I am being honest I was no expert on it. But we have done our best.
“The end result of all the hard work and the fact we are trying to do things properly here is that we’ve won a championship and it’s something the whole town can be proud of.”