07:00 26th April 2013
. . . youngsters progressing in new structure
Kristian O’Leary has reflected on a successful debut season for his Under-21 prospects, insisting the young Swans have made giant development strides.
This season, the new U21s set up replaced the previous campaign’s Reserves league, with O’Leary tasked with nurturing the next line of young talent.
His side finished their Development League Two South campaign this week, signing off with a 1-1 draw against Barnet in Llanelli.
It meant they had won three, drawn one and lost one in their final five fixtures, but the sole focus has purely been on development.
And O’Leary is happy with the experience his particularly young side have gained this season, insisting they will benefit hugely from it.
“It has been difficult for the Youth team because we made a decision a few months back that if a player was playing for the U21s then you wouldn’t play for the U18s. That has a knock on affect for the U18s, and that goes the same for the U16s,” explained the U21s boss.
“So we haven’t got an U21s squad, we actually have some U21 players with a lot of U18 players.
“Some teams play their senior players, which include international players, but we have gone about it in a different way.
“Some of these players played in the Reserve set-up last season, but sometimes in that system your quality stands out but you are surrounded by experienced players who help you along.
“This season the boys have had to stand up on their own and that has been good for development.
“We finished the season with three wins, one draw and one defeat, which is positive, but what we are really looking at is how the players have grown.
“If you break down each individual I can certainly take positives in their development, whether that’s physical, mental, on or off the ball.
“From February and March onwards, we have really developed as a group and that is a positive aspect for next season.”
This season has also been a new experience for O’Leary, who took the U21s reigns last summer.
Previously in charge of now defunct Welsh Premier League side Neath, the 35-year-old former Swans midfielder has relished the opportunity of preparing potential players for Michael Laudrup’s first-team squad.
He added: “It’s been challenging for me. The set-up this season was new for the club, myself and the players.
“Personally, though, I have really enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot myself.
I’ve been able to take things from first-team training with Michael and Morten and utilise with the U21s.
“Overall, with it being our first season as a group in a new structure, I think we can look at it successfully in terms of developing these very young players, some of whom have a few years left to play at U21 level.”