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Charlie Christie – National programme to develop youth football must be realistic

By Will Clark

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As the youth players from our under 11s to our under 18s finally got back to playing matches recently it was another ‘shot in the arm’ for the club’s Academy when Hibernian Football Club

recognised the potential in Daniel MacKay and agreed a fee with us for him Dan to join them for the start of next season.

Head of youth at Inverness Caledonian Thistle Charlie Christie.
Head of youth at Inverness Caledonian Thistle Charlie Christie.

It is always pleasing when a player who has been with us since primary school gets the opportunity to advance his career whilst earning the club some much needed finance but the other undoubted positive is that it gives all the youngsters in our system the knowledge that, they

too, can achieve their goal.

As I watched our matches against Dundee at the weekend, I saw genuine potential in several of our

young players at various age levels and this season has certainly been a significant one for ICT in

terms of the number of minutes played by our home-grown youngsters.

Daniel Mackay, Roddy MacGregor and Cammy Harper have been an invaluable part of the squad throughout, and, at various stages of the season, each one was arguably our top performer at that time. It was also pleasing to see Harry Nicholson, Ryan Fyffe and Lewis Hyde agreeing their first ‘professional’

contracts at the club last week and it is now up to them to make the final and most difficult step;

into that first team starting eleven on a regular basis.

Incredibly, and for the first time ever, ICT are presently working with eight different age level squads with games played on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday and our Academy resources have been

stretched to the limit. I was at the first ever Caledonian Thistle youth matches over 25 years ago when we had a total of two youth teams playing regular games and we thought we were doing well!

I have often recited the demands placed on clubs by the SFA ‘Project Brave’ initiative over the past

few years and I do wonder what the next brainchild will be.

I am, and always will be, an advocate for ‘dual age bands’ where your best under 11 and under 12 players would train and play together and

this would be replicated throughout the system up to the age of 18.

The less advanced players would play locally and aspire to improve and thus make the ICT youth squads later in their development.

This would allow us to work with four integrated squads whilst alleviating the constant hunt for good

facilities and reducing the very significant travel costs incurred at the club.

In my opinion this would not detract from our efforts as a club to keep producing home grown talent and may well enhance our ability to do so.

Having spoken at length last week with former Ross County Head of Youth Development and current CEO Steve Ferguson on the subject we agreed that the demands of running so many squads was becoming increasingly challenging given our population base and geography.

Whilst both north clubs are keen to prioritise youth development as an important strategy going forward, we both hope that whatever the new SFA programme is it will be more realistic to clubs of our size and resources but only time will tell.

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