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Cliftonville coach preparing club's teenage talent for a title tilt in years to come

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Seamus McCorry

Seamus McCorry

Seamus McCorry

Cliftonville Ladies manager Seamus McCorry is intent on putting his faith in the club's conveyor belt of talent after seeing what the Solitude youth system can deliver.

The Reds boss will, however, also lean on the know-how of two of the most experienced players in the Danske Bank Women's Premiership as he tries to keep pace with the title chasers.

McCorry took over midway through last season and guided the team to fourth spot, in behind Linfield Ladies, Sion Swifts Ladies and Glentoran Women, who at one time were all in with a chance of winning the league.

The Reds currently sit in fifth place and the fact that the top four are all on six points from their first three games means they are just three points adrift.

Long-term, the goal is to turn his teenage talent into title contenders in the coming years.

So far this season, McCorry has fielded two teenage goalkeepers in 16-year-old Rachel Norney and Lauren Welsh, who is just a year older.

Toni-Leigh Finnegan, whose form last season was rewarded with a full international debut, is now a key member of the team at just 17 and was again named in Kenny Shiels' squad for Friday's European Championship qualifier in the Faroe Islands.

As well as that, under-16 international Abbie McHenry looks set to nail down her spot in the team.

At the other end of the scale, Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan showed the young ones how to do it when she scored a stunning free-kick in their recent 2-0 win over Derry City Women. The 35-year-old isn't the oldest member of the team, though, after Claire Carson made the switch from Crusaders Strikers.

"We have some really good kids in the youth set-up, we've some excellent under-17s and under-19s so typically our starting XI is going to involve several players under the age of 18," says McCorry.

"We are blooding them through this season in anticipation that in the next couple of seasons they'll be a bit more steeled for women's football."

Even in their opening night defeat to Glentoran Women and last Wednesday's 2-0 loss at the hands of Linfield Ladies, the Reds showed that they won't be rolled over by the more fancied teams. Indeed, they could well have come out of both games with something to show for strong performances.

With just 10 games to play in the season shortened by coronavirus, McCorry may run out of matches to fully develop his side as he wants, but his philosophy will be to stick with the home-grown players, at least to dangle a carrot in front of those currently in the under-age teams.

"The coaches at the under-17 and under-19 levels could be left thinking they are wasting their time if we don't bring those players through," adds McCorry.

"I wanted to take kids who are local, who have been with the club and the coaches have been working on for the last four or five years.

"I want to reward those coaches by saying if they are 16 and they are good enough, they are going to be playing.

"As soon as they are good to go and they show the ambition and show the appetite to play women's football and I think they will be competitive, then I will throw them in and let them learn as they grow."

The Irish FA have, meanwhile, announced that the Electric Ireland Women's Challenge Cup will kick off on Friday, September 25 and will involve 18 clubs. Thirteen teams from NIWFA Leagues will battle it out through three rounds for three places in the quarter-finals, where they will be joined by the five Premiership sides.

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