stpatsfc.com has been reflecting on a league title winning year for our U17 team that saw the young reds finish top of the U17 Northern Elite Division with 17 wins, 2 draws and just 1 defeat from their 20 league matches.
The side went on the win the overall League Title play-offs, beating Shamrock Rovers via a penalty shootout win in the Quarter-Finals, Waterford United (3-2) in the semi-finals and then UCD (2-1) in the final. The young Saints came close to a famous double, but unfortunately lost 2-0 to Bohemians in the Mark Farren Cup final.
Manager Jamie Moore, Captain Paul Cleary and midfielder Luke Nolan have all been looking back on a fantastic 2016; second up in our series of interviews is the side's captain this year, Paul Cleary, who admitted to be delighted lifting silverware with the Saints.
"The year was a successful one for the team winning the league. It would have been great to do the double but unfortunately we under performed in the cup final and Bohs were better on the night.
"We always tried to play good football and did our best to perform in every match and I think for the most part we did that.
"Winning the League Final at UCD was a great moment for us as a team and me personally as it was the first time I've won a trophy as a captain. I will always remember the feeling of raising the cup and it's something that motivates me to keep improving and hopefully continue to win and lift more trophies."
The success however earned by the Saints' U17 side was hard earned with the players showing huge commitment throughout the season, training three, sometimes four times per week on top of matches at the weekend. Reflecting on pitch sessions being combined with three gym sessions per week, Cleary commented with assurance that the players' commitment had been rewarded.
"Throughout the year all of the players and staff had to make sacrifices to make it to training sessions and games etc as I don't think you would find any other team than trained more than us. Even on Bank Holiday Monday's and mid-term breaks, we would train in the mornings and do extra sessions.
"Knowing now that all the hours on the pitch and in the gym paid off gives the group a huge sense of achievement and makes it all worth that we put in."
Cleary is one of the young Saints on a scholarship thanks to the link-up the club has with Maynooth University, and reflected on the progression he has experienced thanks to the system in place and philosophy of the club.
"I've played at Pats now for two seasons and since the very beginning, Jamie, Darragh and Sean always taught us to play out from the back and move the ball fast. Winning the league playing this way was very important because football in Ireland is sometimes considered to be a long ball type of game but I think it's better to get the ball down and play. Hopefully the way we played along with certain other teams in the league played shows otherwise, that you can perform and win by doing things the right way."
"The players and the staff were always very close on and off the pitch from the very start. We played for each other and it was always about winning and doing everything together as a team.
"The staff played a huge part in our success this year. If you had any sort of problem or question they would sort it out for you and find an answer straight away and I loved the fun environment in the group, we laughed every time we were in!
"What I really liked was that when we arrived for every session and every game everything would be ready and waiting for us, the gym and pitch sessions would be all set up, the gear would be hanging in the dressing rooms along with fruit, wine gums, jaffa cakes, water etc and the pre-match warm up would be laid out on the pitch before we got there which shows just how much planning went in from the staff.
"I think winning the U17 League of Ireland gives all of us moving to the U19s a great platform to build on, keep improving and playing the best football and hopefully winning some trophies with the U19s next year. I'm really looking forward to the new challenge and I'm excited to get started in January."
Cleary will now move on a grade with the Saints U19's and while he admits to missing the set-up of the past two years, is relishing the move up to U19 level and pre-season in January.
"I'll miss the U17s a lot next year as it's been a very enjoyable first 18 months in the League of Ireland. I'll definitely miss the lads who have another year at U17s and the staff as we were all so close the team but we'll be the same at U19s and we'll all still training together which will be good. I want to thank Jamie, Darragh, Sean, Christy, Shane, Tom and all of the players for a great couple of seasons as a group."
Cleary is certainly a man going place and is looking to cement his place in the Saints' backline for many, many years to come.
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