FEATURE: John Brady on making a young player 'first-team ready', his high-flying U18s side and tonight's FA Youth Cup tie

Camron McWilliams, younger brother of Shaun, Kettering loanee Jay Williams and Joe Iaciofano, who now plays for Banbury United, have all progressed through the youth teams into the senior side in recent seasons.
Camron McWilliams, younger brother of Shaun, Kettering loanee Jay Williams and Joe Iaciofano, who now plays for Banbury United, have all progressed through the youth teams into the senior side in recent seasons.

One of the biggest challenges faced by any youth team coach is ensuring young players are prepared, both mentally and physically, for the considerable jump into senior football.

Any youngster who make it as far as U18s level must have a degree of talent but talent alone isn't enough to succeed in the pressurised world of professional football. It must also be accompanied by application and a desire to work hard.

Three years on from joining the Cobblers, initially as U16s coach and now U18s manager, Jon Brady has seen numerous young players pass through the various youth sides and into the senior team.

"What we try and do is blood players early and develop them so they're first-team ready," he explains.

"A lot of things go into how we get a player first-team ready but it's something I've designed that's really coming to fruition and it's creating a first-team ready player.

"You see Scotty, you see Jay Williams, you see Morgan and you see other players and it shows we're getting there."

After losing talent such as Scott Pollock and Jay Williams to the first-team, a drop-off from the U18s side that won an EFL Youth Alliance title in 2018 would have been understandable.

Instead, though, they've continued to chalk up points and rack in goals and once again sit top of the table, just ahead of local rivals Peterborough United.

"The boys have done very well and to be honest they've surprised me," admits Brady.

"At the end of last season we sent the boys that have gone on out on loan and we blooded a lot of these players very early in the league.

"They struggled a little bit in the last six months of last season but now they're really showing character and they've really worked hard to get to this point in the season where they're at - top of the league.

"It's a lot of credit to them in terms of how much they've put into what they've done so far this season and for us it was very important to blood them early in the Youth Alliance League because they saw early on what they needed to do."

Now comes one of the highlights of their season: the FA Youth Cup.

First-round opponents Colchester United are a category two side so will therefore start tonight's tie at the PTS Academy Stadium as favourites.

"We don't play it up to be any bigger and make it too big for them," continues Brady. "It's just another game.

"We don't put pressure on winning or getting through to the next round. It's down to them and all the hard work that they've put in - can they now put that into the game and come out with the right result?

"We can give them all the help in the world before the game but it's down to them when they cross the white line."