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Player of the Month Awards - Irish FA JD Academy in collaboration with UEFA

Player of the Month awards at the Irish FA JD Academy in collaboration with UEFA are a way of recognising and rewarding an individual player's progression, attitude and application in their football development.

Here's a look at the participants who have caught the eye of the coaching team.

 

Being Player of the Month is an important reward in the development pathway of a young player and recognises the player who showed the best attitude all-round in balancing all aspects of Academy life including Football, School and Education during this period

Olivier Doglia, Senior Player Development Expert, UEFA

March 2022 - Theo McToal

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Age: 15

School: Belfast High School

From: Larne

Position: Right back

Club: Glentoran 

What’s your sporting highlight? My sporting highlight to date is beating Scotland in the Victory Shield. It was my first junior cap and first junior international assist.

Who Is your sporting hero? Dani Alves; as he was an attacking and aggressive full back that lit up the pitch as well as adding goals and assists to his game.

Best team you have ever played against:  We played Albania a couple of weeks ago when I was selected to represent NI U17. It was a great opportunity to play against a great international side. To go to Albania and play against other countries was a great experience and showed us the level of standard in other countries. The U21 manager, John Schofield took us for a couple of sessions out there and gave us all crucial information. It was an unbelievable experience. 

Best goal you have ever scored: I scored from the halfway line when I played for Greenisland against Ballymena in the Super Cup quarter final. It was an important goal because it brought us level in the game and we then went on to win the cup.

February 2022 - Logan Graham

Logan Graham.jpg

Age: 15

School: Belfast High School

From: Larne

Position: Centreback 

Club: Glentoran 

What’s your sporting highlight? I have played in the Florida Cup for Celtic boys in 2019. We won the tournament, it was a great experience to travel and play in Florida. I scored the last minute winner in the semi-final from 40 yards out, straight over the keeper's head!  

Who is your sporting hero? Nemanja Vidic who played for Manchester United, he was one of the best defenders ever. I grew up watching him and he always worked hard on the pitch.

Best team you have ever played against: We played Leicester a couple of weeks ago with the JD Academy. It was a great opportunity to play against an English academy team. Their facilities were the best I have ever seen. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers came to watch the game and took time to talk to us. Then Ian Baraclough came in and gave us a half time team talk. It was unbelievable. 

Best goal you have ever scored: I scored from the half way line when I played for Greenisland against Cliftonville FC. It was an important goal because it put us top of the table and we then went on to win the league!

January 2022 - Dylan Stitt

Dylan Stitt.jpg

Age: 14

School: St Mary’s CBGS

From: Lisburn

Position: Centre midfield

Club: Linfield FC 

What’s your sporting highlight? Getting picked for the JD Academy has been a dream of mine, the day I received the letter saying I was selected was the greatest day of my life. I wanted it so bad and to achieve a place was and is amazing.

Who Is your sporting hero?  Stevie Gerard, because I think he is the best Premier League midfielder of all time. His attitude is amazing he works hard and is a true athlete.

Best team you have ever played against:  We played Chelsea FC last week, they were quality however we were up for a fight! We played a pressing game and managed to score 4 past them and won the game! It was an amazing feeling to be part of it.

Best goal you have ever scored: I scored a goal against Trojans in the NI Cup, I dribbled it past a couple of players and beat the keeper slotting it in the corner. I love scoring goals!

December 2021 - Darragh McCloskey

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Age: 16

School: De La Salle

From: Derry-Londonderry

Position: Centre-back

Club: Derry City 

What’s your sporting highlight? I was picked for the U17 NI team by Gerard Lyttle against Italy it was a real challenge but it gave me the hunger to play for Northern Ireland. It identified to me what level I need to be at to play for my country and club.

I joined the Academy in Year Two as I want to make it and knew the extra training would up my game.

Who Is your sporting hero? 

My sporting hero is Cristiano Ronaldo. I always thought he was brilliant when he played for Man United. He is a machine on and off the pitch his athletic ability and skill is a testament of the work he puts in. I aspire to be like him and always work hard on and off the pitch!

Best team you have ever played against: Italy. They were slick, they moved the ball with pace and grace! They are some team; I really appreciate a team that have it and I look forward to playing them again!

Best goal you have ever scored: 2019 in the Barcelona Cup. I was playing for Foyle Harps it was a 40-yarder. I ran the length of the pitch to celebrate!

November 2021 - Reece Lyttle

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School: Belfast Boys’ Model

From: Belfast

Position: Centre midfield / left wing

Club: Glentoran FC 

What’s your sporting highlight? Winning the Super Cup NI with Glentoran in 2019 beating Dungannon in the final.

Who Is your sporting hero? Cristiano Ronaldo. He dealt with his background and how he has grown up. His dad passed away at a very young age and this made him try hard to succeed. It drove him to work hard and push for success. He works hard and turns up for training before everyone else. He knows what it takes to succeed as a professional player.  

Best team you have ever played against: Barcelona with Northern Ireland Under 14s in 2019.  They were an unbelievably talented team and we fought hard but they beat us 4 -0. From that day on I have worked harder on the pitch to up my game. I hope hard work and my talent will give me the opportunity to go far and to push me to my dream club!

Best goal you have ever scored: I had a free-kick against Ballinamallard in a league match from 25 yards out. I stuck in into the top right; the keeper didn’t stand a chance. When I was 11, I scored a sweet half-volley against Juventus when I was in the Netherlands. I will always remember this.

October 2021 - Lorcan Donnelly

Lorcan Donnelly.jpg

Name: Lorcan Donnelly

Age: 15

School: Rathmore Grammar School

Hometown: Belfast

Position: Goalkeeper

Club: Glentoran FC

What’s your sporting highlight? Winning the Foyle Cup.

Who is your sporting hero? Manuel Neuer is my sporting hero because he makes great saves for his team.

Not only is he a great shot-stopper but he also contributes to the team as a sweeper keeper meaning he comes out and challenges strikers and has excellent footwork, as well as being a leader. He has been my hero since I was young and only starting out as a ‘keeper.

Any secret talents? Not many people know I had a lead role in Julius Caesar at The Mac Theatre in Belfast.

It was a challenging experience as I had to talk on my own on various occasions by myself and as I was so young and I was nervous. If football doesn’t work out I could become the next Liam Neeson! 

Favourite team? Manchester United are my favourite team because my dad supports them and it was the first football kit I have ever had and since then I have supported them. I like them because the feeling you get when attending a game is unmatched and the atmosphere is amazing.

Best goal you have ever scored? I save shots! I have been in plenty of penalty shootouts. It makes me feel nervous although I also feel really good once I save a penalty as I know I have contributed massively for the team and that’s what it’s all about.

September 2021 - Kenzie Beattie

Kenzie Beattie.jpg

Name: Kenzie Beattie 

Age: 14

School: Lagan College

Hometown: Belfast

Club: Linfield FC. I joined in May 2019. Before then I played for Glentora.

What is your sporting highlight to date? Scoring a hat-trick against Liverpool FC. I scored this in 2019 in a friendly when I played for Glentoran FC. We were in England for a football trip. The final score was 4-2. It was a great match!

Sporting hero? Messi. I think he is the best player of all time! His feet are so quick and he has just got better and better he is a real inspiration to young players! 

Any secret talents? I am really good at darts! We practice at home all the time, it is a real family tournament and it always ends up really competitive! But I love beating my dad. 

Best team you played against? Barcelona; we went to the Youth Barcelona Cup in 2017 and we made it to the final of the plate and won 5-4! I tell everyone that we beat Barcelona!

Best goal you’ve scored? Free-kick top left bins against St Oliver Plunkett! We played them in September in the NIBFA league.

If you were’t a footballer what would you be? I would like to be a PE teacher and I would let the pupils play football every lesson as that is what I love to do at Lagan College!

May 2021 - Josh Briggs

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What did winning the award mean to you? 

Winning the Player of the Month award has shown me that if you are committed and prepared to work hard it will pay off. 

How you are working on your development in the Academy? 

I am working on my development in the academy by always giving my all in every training session and by setting myself targets and goals throughout the week.

Any advice for other young players or anything else you want to add?  

Be confident, listen to your coaches and take on board their feedback and treat every training session like it is your last

April 2021 - Josh Roney

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What does winning the award mean to you?

I was very happy and proud to win the player of the month award. It is nice to get recognition for the hard work which goes on during training. I was very honoured to receive this award as I work very hard during training sessions so to get the award was a nice touch.

How you are working on your development in the Academy?

In the academy the sessions allow me to work on all aspects of my game. The sessions are very intense which allow me to work on my technical ability as I’m always put under pressure when I have the ball. Being one of the older ones amongst the group allows me to enhance my leadership skills to push the training sessions on and ensure that everyone is working at a high intensity.

Any advice for other young players or anything else you want to add? 

Advice I would have for the younger players in the academy or any new players coming into the academy is to keep working hard, not only during the training sessions but also spending a bit of time after training to do a bit of extra whenever you can to try and improve all aspects of your game as much as you can.

March 2021 - Matthew Williamson

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What does winning the award mean to you?

Winning this award means lots to me as all of the hard work I put in has paid off and it just shows that if you put everything into what you do it will always pay off. It was a great feeling to be awarded with this Player of the Month award.

How you are working on your development in the Academy?

I am working to try and be the best I can be. I always want to get better every day and winning this award has made me want to push on and I know I can give a lot more.

Any advice for other young players or anything else you want to add?  

Always work the hardest and always try to improve every day and be better than the day before. Always try to do that little bit more than the other player in your position. I’ve always been told ‘if you really want it, you will get it’ and as I’ve seen, if you put the hard work in you will get the rewards. And it’s a great feeling when the rewards come.

Carmel Fyfe, the Irish FA’s Elite Performance Operations Manager said: 

“Matthew is such a deserving winner. His commitment and dedication to his overall development shines through in everything that he does. He continuously shows a fantastic attitude; he clearly wants to be the best he can; and always makes the most of the opportunities given to him.

“Matthew is a dream to work with and the whole team is delighted to see him getting better and better all the time. Congratulations, Matthew!”

February 2021: Mitchel Watterson

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What does winning the award mean to you? 

I felt very proud and feel confident in myself now and it’s made me push even more to be the best player I can be by working hard and putting the extra training in. 

How are you working on your development in the Academy?

I am working very hard on my development; the way I look at it is, you only get out what you put in, so my advice on the programme we have to follow is I would stick to this and put 100 per cent effort in. And, after it do some extra, be that extra sprints. That extra hour I am willing to do this to make me the best player I can possibly be and be ready for any challenges ahead.  

Any advice for other young players?

Keep working hard and don’t stop. Just because you aren’t playing football doesn’t mean you don’t work as hard. 

The main thing in football is working hard and the one thing I go by in football is attitude is half the battle. If you have a positive attitude and that drive and determination to be better each day you will succeed so keep going! 

“Mitchel has shown a tremendous attitude this year, even with so many challenges, and we are delighted to see how the Academy has impacted on him in such a positive way. 

“He has a great attitude towards his development and continuously demonstrates the desire to really make the most of every opportunity and to do the best he can for himself. 

Carmel Fyfe, the Irish FA’s Elite Performance Operations Manager

January 2021: Shea Brennan

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What did winning the award mean to you? 

Winning the award has certainly boosted my confidence in every way possible. I am also very happy because it’s hard to do well and train every day in these difficult times. 

How you are working on your development in the Academy? 

Each day I am challenging myself to develop and become a better player especially in my weaker areas. We all work on the Academy programme on a daily basis so I challenge myself to push on past that and to do an extra bit more to improve as a player

Any advice for other young players or anything else you want to add?  I would say, get out and do what you can, while you can. Keep yourself sharp, fit and focused to be ready for when we are allowed back because it all benefits you in the end.

'Shea has shown a tremendous work ethic throughout the lockdown and has really stepped up to the challenge. He has shown an all-round improvement in his attitude and motivation and Academy staff are delighted to see his strong desire to knuckle down and really focus on improving in all aspects of his development. Well done, Shea!'

Carmel Fyfe, Irish FA’s Elite Performance Operations Manager

December 2020: Bobby Harvey

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What did winning the award mean to you? 

Winning the Player of the Month award will keep making me working even harder every day in training and school.

How are you working on your development in the academy? 

I’m working on my development every day with football and strength and conditioning to help me achieve my goals.

Any advice for other young players? 

My advice for younger players would be if you get an opportunity at the Academy, take it. It’s a good potential pathway to a professional career in the game.

 

Bobby is one of our new lads who, at the start, found it hard to settle into academy life. He has done brilliantly to continue and persevere with everything that has been thrown his way. By the end of the term Bobby had a new lease of life in his training mentality and his hard work is paying off 

Gerard Lyttle, Head Coach

 

November 2020: Rian Brown

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What did winning the award mean to you? 

Winning this award made me really happy and proud of how hard I worked on and off the pitch. 

How are you working on your development in the academy? 

In the academy we work on and off the pitch. On the pitch we work to prepare ourselves for going to England or Scotland and what the training will be like across the water.

Off the pitch we learn to take our own responsibility and take care of ourselves; we learn new life skills like cooking, keeping everything organised and tidy we learn about things that are good for us and things that are not. 

Any advice for other young players? 

My advice for younger players is take everything one thing at a time and don’t try do everything at the same time; space everything out and plan your day.

Don’t try do your homework the morning you have school and if you have something to do before you go on the pitch don’t do it just before going to the pitch. Also, enjoy it because before you know it, it could be all gone.

Rian is now into his second year with the academy. He has worked extremely hard on his own game to give himself every chance of being the best goalkeeper he can possibly become. The one year of self-development has enabled him to be more confident around his teammates 

Gerard Lyttle, Head Coach

October 2020: Caolán Donnelly

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What did winning the award mean to you? 

Winning the award meant a lot to me because it showed me you get out what you put in. It means if I work and train my hardest and be the best I can be every session it will reflect when it comes to a match.

How are you working on your development in the academy? 

In the academy the coaching staff have meetings at the end of every term and tell you how you are getting on and they talk about your strengths and weaknesses. I find these meetings very useful as it helps me self-reflect on my game and when I know what I need to work on I will try and master it.

Any advice for other young players? 

Always outwork everyone else and train the hardest every day. Even if someone is technically better than you, if you work harder than they do, you will be better than them.

Caolán is a proper team player and is always the first to offer a hand. His hard work off the pitch mirrors his hard work on it. He is always wanting to learn to get better 

Gerard Lyttle, Head Coach 

 

September 2020: Luca Doherty

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What did winning the award mean to you? 

Receiving the Player of the Month award was a great moment. Winning it was a good way of showing myself that my hard work was paying off.

How are you working on your development in the Academy? 

In the Academy we do a lot of training and this is a great way to improve upon my weakness and improve myself as a player every day.  

Luca has come into the Academy with the perfect attitude. As coaches we stress that it’s what you do when no one is around that counts. Luca is always doing the extra yards to allow him to reach his goals 

Gerard Lyttle, Head Coach