The kids are alright: Hughes puts trust in youth at the Comrades

Ballyclare Comrades Reserves manager, Stephen Hughes.
Ballyclare Comrades Reserves manager, Stephen Hughes.

Recently-appointed Ballyclare Comrades Reserves manager, Stephen Hughes, has confirmed he will be fielding a teenage side this season and will not be attempting to emulate the feats of his predecessor, Jonty Watson.

“Jonty did a fantastic job winning back-to-back Ballymena Junior League titles and the Welshman Cup, but there will be a change of emphasis this season,” said Hughes.

“As Comrades’ Youth Development Officer, and my job is to nurture the emerging talent from our teenage teams in order to provide players for the senior side, so the emphasis will be on skills and coaching rather than on winning matches.

“I plan to work on roughly a two-year cycle, and during that time players will be closely monitored, and hopefully some will make the grade and proceed to the senior squad - but time will tell.”

Last season several young players were blooded from time to time in the Reserves, and most of them have signed up for another season, while a number of the older players have moved on.

Regulars Warren McAllister, Aaron Lindsay and Daniel Ellis are likely to first names on the team sheet, while Youth XI players David McCallum, Marc Rainey, Mark Conn, Nathan Stranaghan, Jamie McTaggart, Tyler McMaster, Dean McAllister, Chris Crowe and John Thompson who all have had some experience at senior level, will be hoping to figure prominently in the new campaign.

In come midfielders Rhys Clelland and Conor Dougan from Linfield, and a local lad, Joe Cooper, from Glenavon, so there will be healthy competition for places.

Training has already commenced on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Mallusk Playing Fields, and a couple of pre-season friendlies are being sought.

About 40 players representing the seniors and the reserves turned up for the first training session last week despite the wetconditions.

“Stuart McClean and Gary Bell put 21 of the seniors through their paces, while Stephen Hughes had about 20 of his lads,” said Eddie Hill.

“Only Chris Shimmon, who has just returned from the European Regions’ Cup tournament in Italy, was missing from my squad, but we had trialist Ryan Cardwell from Dundela training with us, and he may opt to join us on a permanent basis.

“The lads were all very enthusiastic, and they enjoyed a hard opening workout, and they can’t wait to get started in Championship 1,” he added.