One of the most well-respected coaches in the #BritballNation, DC have been privileged to be joined by Coach Ben Herod of the Bristol Academy to head up our U17 and U19 coverage for the 2017 seasons!
Coach Herod brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our coverage of the developmental aspects of the domestic game, and begins his work with DC by looking at some of the top teams across the nation, and exploring how they came to find such success last season…
It’s not often you make a National Final in your first year as a Head Coach, but that was exactly what Matthew Davies did last year with the East Kilbride Pirates U19 Team. With a focus on attendance and effort to pick his team, along with a new staff, it should have been a rebuilding year.
“We simplified playbooks, focused hard on fundamentals and while we expected to take steps in the right direction, none of us expected to find ourselves in the U19 final after one year”
commented Coach Davies.
I’ve been in the sport a while now, longer than I would care to admit. I’ve either been coaching or playing at Junior (U19) level almost my entire time. Knowing Coach Davies, through the BAFCA conventions, it was obvious that his attention to detail and sense of humour would make him a great fit for this age group. Something he proved beyond any doubt in year one.
With some very impressive wins along the way it was not through luck they found themselves competing for a National title last season. Key difference makers for him on offence included young playmakers Nick Kosic, Straun Bailey and Jack Hunter. Kosic, a converted receiver playing quarterback, proved very effective running the ball and gave his entire offence a real hard-nosed edge. I had been lucky enough to meet Nick and Straun at a Skills camp we held in Bristol that year, and both were very impressive. On defence, a name I was familiar with was making the plays, Darren Robert, who spent a short period of time with us at the PRIDE the previous year. He had moved over from the Longhorns to play Linebacker for the Pirates. Robert lead an impressive defensive box with the Defensive Line being one of the most disruptive units in Junior football last year.
Photography by Duncan Grey, check out his superb work at https://duncolm.smugmug.com
When asked to pick a memorable moment from last year, Coach Davies went back to the last drive of the half from the semi-final against Manchester: hammering the ball in for a score on a counter play, just before the half when tied at zero. To take the lead in a game many did not think they would win against a physical team was “a really special moment”.
When it came to the National Final, in the narrow loss to the Kent Exiles, coach Davies put the loss down to failures at execution and decision making in the red zone.
“We had some favourable statistics in terms on offence in terms of time of possession etc. but we had several visits to the red zone that proved fruitless, whereas Kent had less clear cut opportunities but executed exceptionally well on key plays and came out on top.”
continued Coach Davies.
Looking forward to this season the Pirates say good bye to Kosic, Robert and almost their entire Offensive Line.Even so, Davies was upbeat despite losing such key contributors due to the amazing production line they have coming in from their youth team – who found significant success of their own in 2016! Rather, Coach Davies sees there being opportunities for others to step up. The team welcomes in the Pirates programme’s all-time leading receiver, Jamie McLaughlin, as their new OC and the team has shifted focus again now that they have experienced such great success.
“This year it’s all about the players being wild animals rather than zoo animals, recognising that the difference is the ownership and accountability; going out and ‘eating’ or getting better off your own back, rather than waiting for someone else to ‘feed you’ or make you better.”
It’s great to see a British coach use themes to inspire and get buy in from their team. Too many coaches simply focus on the x’s and o’s of the sport overlooking the fundamental skills and the mental side of the sport – afraid to come across “cheesy”. This is the attention to detail I referred to earlier with Coach Davies, it’s why I know his team are going to have a ton of fun this year and likely even more imposing than last year as a result.
Who have they got to beat to get back to the final this year? As always James Hudson’s Highland Wildcats will be a formidable force and EKP have to face them three times this year – likely having to best them in at least two out of three match ups to earn themselves a spot in the Championship playoffs. Paulin’s amazing facility, the familiar, from my perspective HACL feeder League, and their compulsory gym sessions mean that his guys are rarely if ever out muscled on the field. Odds are that, should they make the postseason once more, EKP will also have to face the ever-improving Manchester Titans and Leeds Academy Assassins – two programmes that continue to grow.
Like EKP and the Wildcats all these programmes have realised the importance of feeder systems into their junior teams, and as a result have impressive numbers for an age group that is currently really struggling across the rest of the country. Many mention the importance of Junior football to Adult teams, but most junior programs overlook the importance of a youth team to help their own recruitment. I know that when I was coaching the Aztecs Juniors that without a steady line of quality youth players coming through we would never have competed with the London Teams. Thanks to those teams I even managed to grab a few Future All European Stars such Shane Prosser, Cameron Parker and Jordan Crouch who eventually worked their way into the PRIDE.
Who the top team in the North will meet in the National Final is anyone’s guess. The Exiles, like the Pirates, were somewhat of a shock last year in the South, the first team in a very long time to have won the title that wasn’t from the capital and the product of Premier programmes the London Warriors or London Blitz (the last being the Aztecs Juniors in 2010). Birmingham, Farnham and of course the Blitz (with newly appointed GB Junior Head Coach, Jason Henry) are all going to be tough competitors as always.
What Matthew Davies and his staff have achieved thus far is incredible and I have no doubt that a National title will not be far away when he unleashes his ‘wild animals’ on the rest of Junior Football.