Date: 22nd August 2008 at 12:09pm
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With the takeover saga at S6 and the latest ‘injury crisis’ taking its toll so early in the season, Ashley Ball gives us Wednesdayites some hope for the future in the academy…

The Latest Young Owls – Set To Fly High?

Take your mind away from the ongoing takeover saga and the latest two dismal efforts of the first team and have a look at one of the only bright spots at the moment: the academy.

Hailed as the best in years by academy boss Sean McAuley, hopes are high for the latest batch of Wednesday youngsters and with hard work and perseverance on both the side of the player and coaching staff we may have a first team littered with graduates for years to come.

Last summer, local youngsters Arron Jameson and Sam Liversidge were the latest to make the step up to pro status on the seemingly endless production line of talent at Hillsborough. Fellow graduates Sean McAllister, Mark Beevers, Richard Wood and Tommy Spurr currently hold down regular first team slots with Richard O`Donnell, Liam McMenamin, Luke Boden and Rocky Lekaj offering back up. This means that a third of the current squad is made up of academy graduates.

As for the current academy team: There are familiar names in Wood and Lekaj, but can the younger brothers live up to their brothers abilities? Nick Wood like his brother plays central defence, however, a lot of developing has to be done for him to live up to his brother`s high standards. The younger Lekaj, Leon plays as a right back and is know for his presence and enthusiasm which usually gets him through the game.

As for the rest of the youngsters, expectations are high for James Cottingham and Callum Harrison, the pair play in central midfield. 2nd year Harrison has already made a string of appearances for the reserve team, impressing thanks to his passing and awareness, however, he may need to toughen up a bit more to push for a first team place. Cottingham is highly thought of thanks to his technical ability and great stamina, he could really be one to look out for.

The rest of the second year scholar`s are Richard Stirrup, Jamie Hadfield, Jason Mok, Tom Connelly, Max Wragg, Aaron Pratt, Ashley Worsfold, Mukhtar Mohammed and Charlie Tunnard.

Stirrup is a central midfielder, who needs to work on consistency to make more of an impression.

Hadfield is a strong looking centre back who is impressive in the air and isn`t phased by the opposition, he has a tendency to switch off, but by getting experience from reserve games, he may yet have a bright future.

Mok is a native to Ireland but has South African roots, he is a left back who is confident of the ball but has been blighted with injuries.

Connelly is a midfielder with a physical presence, working on his technical side would make him a better all round player.

Wragg is a local full back who needs to grow in confidence as well as stature to push for a pro deal.

Pratt, is a goalkeeper, hailing from Scarborough, he has made drastic strides since last year and if this development continues, he could well follow in the footsteps of Stringer, Poulter, O`Donnell and Jameson in turning pro at S6.

Worsfold is another local lad, who plays up front, his great pace allows him to get on the end of through balls but his finishing and composure need to be worked on to allow him to bang in the goals.

Mohammed is a Sheffield based Somalian. He normally plays down the wing where his great engine allows him to shine. His physical presence however, is severely lacking. Work hard on this and he may well be considered to have what it takes for the rigours of the Championship.

Charlie Tunnard is the other striking option available. He has grown in confidence throughout his scholarship and will be hoping to impress in reserves fixtures throughout the season.

The rest of the first years include Danny Kirkland, who has a very good left foot. He is considered to be a fantastic prospect thanks to his versatility as a winger/full back and his good attitude combined with ability. With reserve experience he could get better and better.

Nathan Modest has been mentioned before due to him receiving England schoolboy honours. The striker has pace to burn and Sean McAuley will be hoping to keep him on the right track to fulfil his potential.

Liam Palmer is Modest`s strike partner and his pace and finishing ability could well lead to Wednesday having a potent strike force.

Dale Newton is the 1st year goalkeeper whose development has been halted due to a long term injury. He will be looking to catch up this year with the assistance of Billy Mercer.

Vidaine Oliver is a big presence who can play anywhere across the park. His versatility and stature could lead to him having a big future.

Jack Barnett is a talented midfielder, whose very good on the ball but isn`t the biggest in stature.

More names could be added to the list with the academy`s ongoing links abroad. The above are the local based lads who are looking to make an impression on the Owl`s coaching staff and hopefully be the next to maintain our productive academy`s reputation.

The FA youth cup will be a target for the youngsters. Wednesday`s one and only appearance in the final was in 1991 (a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Millwall) this is fairly poor considering the clubs history and large catchment area for youngsters, but with the larger clubs being able to invest heavily in the academy, the development of the youngsters is definitely much more important than collecting trophies.

Ashley Ball