Club focus: Greenisland
Greenisland Football Club have an impressive alumni, that includes both Northern Ireland internationals and a number of Irish League players.
The likes of Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Craig Cathcart, Josh Carson and Conor Devlin are just some of the hundreds of youngsters who have played for Greenisland since they were formed 19 years ago as a Boys Club.
The County Antrim outfit now also have a senior side - who are pushing for promotion in 2B - but the club are continuing to focus on developing young players.
First team manager Laurence Gilloway said: “We can scan through the Irish League reports in the Sunday papers each week and we will see a number of players who have game through our youth ranks.
“We've also got a number of boys across the water like Andy Mitchell (Annan Athletic) and Michael Smith (Bristol Rovers), which is something we're proud of.
“When our players reach 16 we encourage them to join Irish League clubs because we want them to reach their full potential.”
Their most famous son is Manchester United defender Jonny Evans, but Gilloway believes it is the player who deserves all the credit, not the youth club.
“Jonny was with us for just two seasons, and he spent most of that time either playing for Northern Ireland Schoolboys or travelling over to Manchester. Corry was with us for a number of years as was Craig Cathcart.
“Jackie Evans was also a coach with us for a number of years before the Evans family moved to Manchester. We're just pleased that they choose our club to play with.
“Guys like Conor Devlin (Cliftonville), Matthew Snoody (Crusaders), Michael Ruddy (Ballymena) and the Glendinning brothers (Linfield) have been on our books. It's great to see our old boys doing well, but we're not trying to claim any credit for it.
“We didn't get them there, they got themselves there. All we did was help them on their way, it was their hard work and commitment that helped them to achieve.”
Gilloway was keen to explain that Greenisland aren't just a club for elite players, but also a club for young boys and girls who simply want to enjoy their favourite sport.
“At Greenisland we don't just cater for good players, we also look after kids, from as young as six, who just want to play the game for fun. That's an important part of the club.
“We've 47 coaches at the club at the moment, although I know we will lose a few in the summer so we will be looking for a few more volunteers. You don't need to be the best coach in the world, you just need to be committed.
“As a coach you don't get a lot of praise. Your reward is when you see one of your young players using their left foot, when before they wouldn't even have thought of using their left foot.”
Five years ago Greenisland moved into men's football. The club are currently third in 2C of the Amateur League.
Gilloway explained: “I look at Championship clubs and top Amateur League clubs in our area and they're filled with old Greenisland players, which is great to see. What we're doing with our first and second team is offering guys, our old boys, who aren't playing at a higher level the opportunity to play competitive football.
“We want to keep improving each year. We've got fantastic coaches such as Colin Sewell and Brian McCracken at our club, and a fantastic physio in Jo, so all I really have to do is pick the team!”
Gilloway is reluctant to get ahead of himself, but it's obvious he has ambitious plans for the senior side.
“It's an old cliché, but when it comes to the senior side we are just taking one game at a time. Our aim when it comes to senior football is to win as many games as possible and to improve every season.
“Last year we finished third, so we want a top two spot this year, but in football anything can happen. That's why it's the greatest game in the world. We saw that when Wigan beat Manchester City last week. You just don't know what's going to happen.
“Our focus is on youth football, but we want to push our senior club as far as they can go. Do we want to be an Irish League club someday? Yes. Will that happen in my lifetime? Probably not.
“We just keep trying to improve every year and we will see where that takes us. I guess that's the same for every club.”
Name : Greenisland
League : NAFL 2C
Founded : 1995 as Boys Club, Senior side since 2008
Ground : Glenkeen Avenue
Colours : Maroon and Blue
Gaffer : Laurence Gilloway
Belfast Telegraph Digital