Following the conclusion of their fixtures in the Youth Alliance South West division, Exeter City’s youth side went through a week’s worth of productive and constructive training ahead of their forthcoming Merit League campaign.
While the other clubs in the region played out their final league matches, half-term allowed the Grecians’ Under-18s, and Under-16s group, to train on a full-time basis together.
The U18s group then rounded off their week with an exhibition match against a Bristol-based football academy, where further progress and forward steps were made in preparation for their competitive fixtures during the second half of the season.
ECFC’s U18s Lead Coach, Tom Donati, explained what happened during their week, and how beneficial it ended up being for all of those involved.
“Following our league game against Forest Green Rovers U18s, what followed was a real tough training week. We had double sessions on Monday and Tuesday, which included the guys who have been out on loan, and that tough intensity then went into another session on Thursday and a game on Friday. There was an added load for all of them, and the Under-16s who were included did really well, as some of those played with us on Friday, and then they had a good game away at Liverpool on the Saturday.
“We tried to get the players into a mentality where doing more is better, but, we have got to also be careful not to overdo it, and manage it closely. It has been really interesting, as there was a shift in mentality from those who have been out on loan as this was just additional game time for them. The Under-16s integration has also been good, but overall, they’ve all worked hard and it has been tough for all of the boys.
“We have focused our training methods in two different ways. The mornings were based around technical and tactical aspects, while the afternoons were physical. The players found it tough, but then on Friday, they put in a hard-working performance.”
Exeter’s youngsters welcomed Total Football Academy to the Cliff Hill Training Ground in what became an eventful encounter and tough test.
City battled hard though, and secured a 3-2 victory thanks to goals from a trialist, their new signing, and Joe Wragg.
Donati came away from the match satisfied with what he saw from his players following the gruelling week they had on the training pitches.
“We wanted to give the players a tough end to the week, and to stretch them on top of their regular games programme. We used four different systems in the game, so the players had to be flexible, and we had boys coming on and going off regularly, so we had to show togetherness and be cohesive.
“They threw everything at us, and it was good to see a physical competitiveness. For the senior players, it was a contest that provided a technical and tactical hurdle, and for the younger guys, it was how they were supported by the more senior players. Overall the boys coped well, alongside the challenges I threw at them too. The U18s have had three weeks working under me, so they're getting used to it, but for those U16s, it was good for them to see what a working week with me looks like.
“There were some less familiar faces involved. We had a trialist who scored, and one of the new signings scored and overall looked bright. The beauty of every game is that it provides us with information. For the group, getting them together has been hugely beneficial, and for the U16s, some of those haven’t been offered scholarships anywhere just yet, so there was a challenge to them of ‘what does my future look like?’.
With the start of the Merit League on the horizon, the Devonians are just awaiting their fixtures to be confirmed before they find out who they will come up against in the second part of the 22/23 campaign. Donati explained what he expects to see in the coming weeks, when his team will face clubs from not just the South West region, but others from the South East too.
“The confirmed fixture list is yet to be announced, but this week, we will prepare as normal, and for the U18s age group, we will potentially look at arranging a game against someone we wouldn't play regularly.
“The Merit League will give the players, and the coaches, a different opportunity. Some matches will involve slightly more travel, and some will include overnight stays, so that provides the opportunity to deal with and learn from all of that. For the U16s, they have been bled into the U18s group due to the older lads being out on loan, so the group in the second part of the season always looks slightly younger. It means we can start the process early for the pre-signed scholars, and it gives the new signings and first-years the ability to see what we want from them in terms of the future.
“I gave the boys on Friday a big ‘well done’. We had some moans and groans from them over the course of the week, but they got themselves through it, and it shows what we can do when we are pushed. It has been a real educational week for them, however, this is just the start of a longer-term process.”