Name: Oisin Hand
Team: Under 17s
Position: Centre half
Previous club: KDUL
How long are you with Rovers?
This is my third full season coming up now; I had a half-season (at the start) as well.
How do you feel you have progressed since joining?
I think every year I have been getting stronger, learning more from all the coaches, I have had a different manager every year and I have learned stuff from them so I feel I have developed with every manager and become a better player over the time.
Who have been your coaches?
I had Damien (Duff) for the half-season and then the next full season then Tony (Cousins) for a year and now I’ve got Thomas (Morgan) this year.
Does it affect you in any way playing under different managers?
No, I have learned little things from everybody. I’ve learned a lot in the years from Damien and all his coaches were brilliant and the same with Tony and Davy (McAllister) last year and then again with Thomas and Ed (Saul) and even when you go up with Aido (Price) and ‘Grayser’ you learn a lot from them as well. A lot of us have been lucky enough to go and train with the B team and play friendlies with them.
Have you trained along with the First Division team?
Yeah, I have been lucky enough to go and train with the B team and I have played a couple of friendlies with them.
Are you happy with your progress?
Yeah, I’m happy. Just developing and learning a lot from the coaches and the players as well so I’m really happy.
Have you had the opportunity to train with the first team?
I came on in two pre-season games against Bray Wanderers and the Irish Army team and that was a really good experience playing with them and even just being in the dressing room learning little things off them like how they treat a game. It was a friendly for all the younger players and a massive deal for us but for them although it was just a pre-season game they still wanted to win that. Their attitude and stuff were really good to see.
Do you model yourself on any player anywhere in the world?
Anywhere around the world would be Van Dijk because of how powerful and how calm he is when he is on the ball. At Rovers it would be Pico Lopes for his defending, for when he’s on the ball as well – I think he is a really good role model.
Would you actually study these players?
Yeah, even when we were on the lockdown we would be sent stuff every week. We would watch a game and we would watch a good few Rovers’ games. You would have to pick out a player in your position. I watched a lot of Pico Lopes and it’s brilliant to watch him, how he defends, how he leads the back four, it was really good to see.
You have travelled around the country for games to places such as Kerry, Galway, Donegal, Waterford and Cork. How do you prepare yourself when you are going on such a long journey?
I go to bed a good bit early the night before and wake up a good bit earlier as well so when I am getting onto the bus I am not tired and I’m fully ready for the game on the travels. I think on the long journeys that’s when you really become a team where you are going to have to dig in at places like Finn Harps, Cork and Galway where the weather is not great most of the time, teams are going to sit in or sometimes really come at you and put you under pressure early on. I think that’s where we’ve got some of our best results and gave some of our best performances and where you develop more as a player going to places like those.
Do you find that going on long journeys also helps you to bond as a squad?
Being on the bus going to places like Donegal, it’s four hours going up and again back home, you get a good team spirit and you bond well with all your teammates and the coaches.
How did you cope when you were all ready to go and then heard that the football had been shut down?
Obviously, it was a big disappointment. We had our first game due that weekend, I was with the U19s against Cabinteely and then everything was shut down. To be fair, all the coaches were brilliant with us over the whole three months. Every day we were kept busy, we had different stuff to do. It was good fun as well. The stuff they gave us was very tough but really good to do and good craic as well.
You have played in Tallaght Stadium a number of times. What’s that experience like for you?
I’m a Rovers’ fan and it means everything going playing in Tallaght. You’re up there on a Friday night and then you might be playing there yourself on Saturday. The first time we were there it was brilliant; when I was the captain and leading the boys out was some feeling.
Do you have any other favourite venue in Ireland that you like to go to?
For the Euro qualifiers with Ireland, we played all the games at Turner’s Cross. The pitch there was really nice and we had a good crowd at all the games, I liked it there.
You mentioned Ireland there, at what ages have you played for them?
I’ve played at Under 15s, Under 16s and Under 17s.
How has the experience of playing for Ireland differed from playing for Rovers?
International football is a lot quicker. You are playing different styles of football, it’s really high tempo against physical players. You learn a lot about yourself and what you could take off other players in your position from other countries. I’ve learned a lot from playing international football.
How great is the feeling of having played for your country?
It’s an unbelievable feeling and I have been lucky also to have captained Ireland a few times as well. That’s the proudest thing for you and your family when you are playing for your country, especially the European qualifiers when we qualified. The tournament was cancelled but there is no better feeling than playing for your country.
Did you keep your Ireland jerseys?
Yeah, I have my Under 15s and Under 16s jersey; we get that at the end of every season. Hopefully, they might send us out the 17s jersey!
Have you framed them?
I have two of them framed on the wall in my bedroom so it’s a nice little memento and I have my caps as well.
Is there anyone in particular who has been a particularly big influence on you?
My mam and dad make a lot of sacrifices bringing me up to training and that. They don’t have to do it. They do it because they want me to be the best I can. I have learnt off every single coach at Rovers as well and every coach has been brilliant to me since I came here.
Have you any idea of what you want to do in the future apart from football?
The number one goal is to be a footballer but that’s obviously very tough (to achieve) so next year I will be going to Carlow IT and doing Sports Business and Management so I can get into coaching and the business side of football as well.
Is this your final year in school?
I will be going into sixth year in September (at Naas CBS) and after that, I will go on to Carlow IT.
Final question Oisin. As a young person do you ever worry about the future?
No, not really. I don’t look too far ahead. Especially with my football, I keep my head down every single day and just keep working hard. There’s no point looking too far ahead or else you’ll lose track of where you are.
Name: Kevin Zefi
Team: Under 15 Airtricity League
Tell us a little bit about your background Kevin i.e. where you were born and where you live:
I was born in Dublin Ireland and I live in Clonsilla, Dublin 15.
What school do you attend and what subjects interest you most?
I attend Luttrellstown Community College and I enjoy PE the most.
What is your first memory of football and can you remember where you got your interest in the game from?
I played in a local mini-league and I enjoyed it. I got my interest in the game from when I was younger, I used to love doing skills against other players and I just really enjoyed it.
Have you tried your hand at any other sports?
No, I haven’t but I have played GAA in primary school.
When did you join Shamrock Rovers?
It’s been about two years, just as Damien Duff left.
What was your first impression of the club?
It was a very warm welcome thanks to the staff and players.
What did you make of playing in the League of Ireland Under 15 league last year?
I learned that you have to move the ball quicker and I adapted quickly to it.
What was your standout moment with Shamrock Rovers last year?
Scoring on my debut against Waterford away.
Do you have also a standout moment with Ireland from last year?
Captaining my country against Latvia on my debut with Ireland.
What are the countries you have played against for Ireland?
Luxembourg, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Poland, England, Australia, Spain, Holland, Czech Republic.
How would you describe yourself as a player using a maximum of six words?
Skilful, powerful, creative, quick, hungry, tricky.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given so far?
That no matter what, keep the head up, keep smiling and enjoy the game.
How are you coping with there being no football at the moment?
It’s a tough time but I’m working hard every day doing our schedule that the club has sent us. I also play a bit of football with friends.
How do you occupy yourself during the day?
Training and watching players I look up to and learning new things every day.
How did you juggle your schoolwork and football training last year?
It was tough, some days I didn’t get to complete my homework but the next day I would try and get it done in school most of the time.
What football Apps do you have on your phone?
Name: Dylan Duffy
Team: Under 19s/First Division
Dylan, we’d like to ask you firstly to give the readers a little bit of information about your background in football.
I started my football with Blessington F.C. and then went to Lourdes Celtic, St. Kevin’s, St. Francis and now I’m here with Rovers. I signed for Rovers when I was Under 15s and my manager at the time was Damien Duff. The other coaches were Lee Raethorne, Luke Byrne and Ciaran Byrne.
You joined Rovers in Damien Duff’s first year in charge of the Under 15s and won the Galway Cup then with that team. Does that seem a long time ago to you?
It does feel like it was a long time ago because I’ve been through so much since then but that was an incredible year with a great team and great coaches.
You lost an entire year in 2018 through injury; how much did you manage last year to make up for lost time?
Coming back from 15 months out is going to be hard for anyone. The first 2/3 months after the injury were hard because I was trying to move fast but the lads on the team and the coaches all helped me to get back to my best.
Before the season was put on hold you played in each of the First Division games that were played; how was that experience?
The First Division was a great experience and it was a good challenge for me and the whole team. Hopefully, when the season comes back we can push on and start to get the results we know we can achieve.
You will also be with the Under 19s this year but having played Under 17s last year how much of a jump have you found it playing at First Division level?
It was a big jump physically; the First Division is a lot more physical than the Under 17 league. I don’t think it was anything I wasn’t ready for and I think when the league is back I can push on and have a great season.
Getting back on the pitch last year was a great achievement for you but how much did you enjoy the season under the new management team?
Last season was one of the most enjoyable seasons I have ever had and that was down to the team and coaches. Tony (Cousins) didn’t put any pressure on me when I was coming back from injury and that really helped me to get my confidence back. I think we were unlucky not to get more out of the league last year but it was still a really enjoyable season for me.
How are you managing to maintain your fitness during the current national crisis?
I think when the season is back we will all be fitter than we were when we finished because Pat Deans has all the teams doing a programme and I personally feel a lot fitter already from it. I think this lockdown in a way is good for footballers to work on individual stuff that they didn’t have the time to do when they were training.
Do you feel frustrated at not being able to train and play?
It’s really tough not being able to train and play every week. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself when there is no training.
With no football and no school how are you coping with the boredom?
I haven’t been that bored since the lockdown because I’ve been training every day and I still have school work to do. We have been doing Google classrooms to keep on top of school work. I’m not complaining when I can play football all day out in my garden.
Are you confident that when the season resumes you can pick up where you left off?
I’m confident when the season comes back I’ll pick up where I left off in the First Division and keep improving every week in training and games.
You are related to former Rovers’ played Jamie Duffy (2006 & 2007). In what way are you related?
Jamie is my first cousin. He taught me a lot when I was younger.
Do you have a role model and if so, who is it?
A big role model for me is my dad. He’s a hard worker and I try to be like him with my work rate on and off the pitch.
Name: Ben Curtis
Age: 15 (will be 16 this week!)
You had a good year with the Under 15s last year; how well do you yourself think you did?
I thought it was a great year for me personally. It was my first League of Ireland year and I was so happy with how I played and how well I fitted into the team. I feel that the training I got throughout that whole year definitely helped my performances and helped me as a player.
Would you say that being an elite player in a set-up such as the SRFC Academy helped you grow more in that year than most boys your age?
Yes, I consider myself lucky to be at an incredible club such as Shamrock Rovers. There are loads of young lads out there who would love to be in my shoes and play for Rovers so I am happy to be a part of it.
You are a valuable member of the squad and play in either defence or midfield; which position do you prefer yourself?
It’s actually a question I get asked a lot. This season I’m focussing on one position to progress and that will be centre half but if I am needed to play midfield at any time I will have no problem with that.
You captained the team last year. How big a deal is it to be the team captain?
It’s a big responsibility in a good way. I felt very proud leading the team out in Tallaght Stadium for the final against St. Pat’s. Coming from a small club in Navan to being captain at the biggest club in Ireland is just amazing.
Do you believe there is an added duty on you as captain to lead by example?
To be honest with you no, I don’t think so. As captain you need to be a leader and lead by example but I think every player should be a leader in their own way and everyone should help each other. That’s the responsibility I set for the lads last year but, of course, a captain should be leading by example and should always help his teammates out.
You are the eldest of four brothers currently playing amongst the ranks of the SRFC Academy; what can you tell us about your younger brothers?
They are all amazing footballers to be honest. All three of them are different in their ways of football but they are all very committed in what they do and are competitive like me. They have all helped me as a player and I am blessed to have the three of them.
The postponement of the beginning of the season was understandably necessary but what are you doing currently to keep yourself fit and fresh?
I’ve been following the programme sent out by the fitness coach Pat (Deans). Every day we get sent stuff to do which keeps us ticking over but I have also been doing my own bit. That means going on a run or going to the nearest green to kick ball with my brothers.
With no football and no school how are you keeping yourself occupied?
I’ve been focussing on being strong and fit for whenever the season starts back and also spending some more time with my family which is important.
You have chalked up quite a number of appearances for the Republic of Ireland. Do you feel a special moment of pride when you pull on the green jersey?
Of course, it’s an amazing feeling to be wearing the green jersey and representing your country. It’s a childhood dream for most kids and it was mine since I was very young so hopefully I can keep it up and stay in that jersey up until first team football.
What’s the most interesting occasion you have had with the international team?
That’s a tough one. I would have to say captaining my country against Spain. I always get nervous before games, especially international games but to be honest when I found out I was going to be captain against such a big country like Spain I had no nerves at all. I just wanted to play and in the end we got an excellent result against them.
Do you have a favourite player in the Rovers’ first team squad?
I don’t personally have a favourite but if I was to pick, I’d say Jack Byrne or Pico Lopes.
How would you describe yourself as a footballer?
I would describe myself as hard working and competitive but mostly a team player. I always want to help my team out in any way possible if that means doing an extra run or covering for someone’s mistake.
What’s your favourite App on your phone?
My favourite app would have to be Instagram.
Who is the funniest team mate on the Under 17s and why?
The funniest on the team would be Sean Jones Carey. He always has something to show in the dressing room and never fails to make everyone laugh.
Team: Under 19
Position: Centre half/left back
Previous clubs: Esker Celtic and Crumlin United
When did you join Shamrock Rovers?
I joined Shamrock Rovers in the summer of 2017
Was there anything in particular that swung your decision to sign for the club?
I went up for a training session, Damien Duff was the head coach of the team, the session was really good, the intensity and on the ball a lot; that was really enjoyable. Damien Duff was definitely a factor.
What was your first impressions of Shamrock Rovers after you joined?
I thought the people that worked there were really nice and I was made feel very welcome into the squad that I was with.
Can you remember your very first game?
My very first game was against Finn Harps, I came on at half time. It was a friendly game and we won 2-0 here at the Academy at Roadstone.
Are you happy with the progress of your development?
Yeah, 100%. I have definitely come as a player, tactically and technically.
What would you say are your strengths as a player?
Passing, speed, good decision making.
Would you say you like to model yourself on any established player in particular?
I would like to be like Virgil Van Dijk, the way he is playing at the moment is unbelievable. He is the best defender in the world at the moment.
You are doing some training with the first team; how is that going for you?
It has been really, really good. The standard is obviously higher than what I have been used to but I’m getting used to it now. All the players have been really nice. The sessions are demanding but it’s benefitting me a lot when I go back and train with my own team too.
How are you managing with your education?
It’s tough but it’s manageable. The hours are longer than my previous school by a couple of hours. I’d be really tired when I get home but I just have to get on with it; that’s what I have to do.
Are you looking to gain any academic qualifications outside of football?
I’m looking to be either a sports scientist or a physio. At present I’m studying Biology in Ashfield College.
You have so far gained eight international caps for Ireland while playing for the Hoops. What has that experience been like for you?
It has been unbelievable. It’s always an honour to represent your country and make your family and friends proud; it’s a feeling you will never forget.
What are you looking to achieve this season?
I’m hoping for success trophy-wise. Any competition that we go into I want to go and win it. Personally, I want to keep on improving and keep on getting better. Hopefully I can get Player of the Year just like I did when I was playing for the Under 15s.
What do you like to do to pass the time when you are not training, playing or studying?
Probably going out with some of my mates. It’s tough not seeing them as much, with training and that I rarely have time so whenever I do have any I go out with my friends.
How many days a week do you go to Ashfield College?
I’m there every single day. On Monday and Tuesday I usually go in late as I’m training with the first team. It’s 9.20am until 7pm Monday to Thursday and 9.20am to 2.30pm on Fridays. On Mondays and Tuesdays when I am training with the first team I don’t start college until 1.30pm. This is my first year at Ashfield. All the teachers are very helpful and all the other students that go there are really nice and friendly so it was easy to adjust to it and to become comfortable in that environment.
Finally, Adam, what would you as a young player say to fans who don’t show enough interest in the underage section to come along to the games?
Throughout the club the standard is really high in the Academy and the first team. I think people should come and get to know us; we are the up and coming players who are going to be hopefully representing Shamrock Rovers in the future. I think it is important that people get to know us.
Team: Under 15s
Position: Centre midfield/left back
Height: 5’ 9”
Previous clubs: St Kevin’s Boys, Aisling Annacotty (Limerick)
Tell us John where exactly you come from? I am from Castletroy in Limerick, in the suburbs of the city.
How long are you playing for Rovers? I am playing for Rovers a year and nine months, since January 2018. My first game was a friendly against Corduff Under 15s in Roadstone.
How did you do that day of your first game? I did well that day and I scored too; it was good to get a goal on my debut.
How did you come about to play for Rovers? I was approached by them after a tournament.
What’s your normal position? At the moment it’s left back; I have played there for my country as well.
You haven’t always played there though have you? When I came to Rovers I played as an attacking number 8. In the summer of 2018 the Ireland Under 15 manager Jason Donohue spoke to Rovers Academy Director Shane Robinson and said he thought that I could be a good left back. Shane worked with me on the position and I made the Irish squad as a full back. Thanks also to Glenda Curtis and her family who let me stay with them while I was in Dublin at that time. I did well playing at left back with Ireland and I have continued playing there sometimes with Rovers.
What school do you attend? I am in Castletroy College. I’m in Transition Year. I did my Junior Cert in June.
Do you model yourself on any particular player? Centre mid I have always admired Kevin DeBruyne; at left back Andy Robertson.
How many appearances have you made for Ireland? 11 including Under 15 and Under 16.
What was your first game for Ireland? It was against Poland Under 15s in Poland.
What are the countries you have travelled to with the Ireland squads? Poland, Spain, Cyprus, Czech Republic and England. I have also been to Finland with Rovers.
What’s it like for a young lad of your age to travel away as part of an Ireland squad? It’s a really good experience. I knew most of the lads before I went away for the first time so it was easy enough to settle in. It’s good to get the opportunity to go away and it’s important to enjoy it. There are many kids around Ireland that would wish they were in my place so I’m grateful for it.
Do you think you learn from playing against foreign opposition? You do, they are the best of the best in their country so you learn every time you play; you pick the key points from each game as to where you need to improve and bring it into the next one.
What has the experience of playing in the FAI Under 15 League been like for you this year? It’s been incredible really; it’s been great to have the opportunity to play for such a big club as Shamrock Rovers. The league is a higher standard; I wish it had started younger, it’s class. I had always expected it to be very competitive.
How much do you think you personally have developed this year? I think I have developed a lot, especially at left back. I just need to keep working hard and keep on improving.
Your team had a super win against Dundalk in the league semi-final; what was the mood in the camp following that victory? We were delighted. As our coaches said we just need to keep the momentum going. We plan to do that and keep on working hard for the final.
How do you travel for training and games? My dad. I don’t know what I would do without him. Sometimes if he is unavailable I would get the bus during school holidays but mostly it’s by car.
What bus would you get? The green bus, the Dublin coach, that drops me off at the Red Cow and I get collected there by a parent or by Shane (Robinson). I get the bus back home again from the Red Cow.
Then you have to get up for school in the morning. How do you do it? Just working hard and dedication. As well, we always drive to training during the school year to make sure I get home as early as possible. I do all my gym, individual fitness and ball work in Limerick.
Team: Under 19s
Previous club: UCD
Position: I would say I am an attacking midfielder. I played a more defensive role at the start of the year but I prefer the attacking role and I am playing there now.
Describe yourself as a footballer: I am a player who likes to attack and defend as well. I like to run and pass the ball around. I like to take on opponents 1 v 1 but I don’t mind defending, every player has to do that.
Describe yourself off the pitch: I’m a relaxed person. I like to spend time with family and friends, watch TV and play a bit of football with my friends during the off season.
What’s your earliest memory of football? I went to see Rovers play Real Madrid in 2009. That would be my earliest memory of going to a big match. It was a big deal at the time and my dad organised the tickets for him, me and my brother Daniel to go. That was my first time to see Shamrock Rovers.
What was your own first game for Shamrock Rovers? I played in a pre-season friendly this year for the Under 19s against Athlone Town’s first team. We won 3-2.
Whereabouts are you from? I’m from Knocklyon. I have always lived there.
What are you currently doing education-wise? I have just finished school at St. Colmcille’s in Knocklyon. I am going to college in September to study an Arts Degree in Spanish and Business.
What kind of music are you into? A bit of everything really. My favourite is rap; I’d listen to it before games or on the bus travelling to away games. I don’t have a favourite artist as such but I like Post Malone; I like to listen to him.
What do you like most about playing for Shamrock Rovers? Being around the best players in the country every week and for every game. Rovers are the biggest club in the country; it’s great to be a part of it. I feel I am lucky to be a part of it.
What’s your favourite meal? Chicken curry
Who do you think is the best player from another club that you have come across in the Under 19 league? I haven’t seen much except when I play against them but one I would say is Colm Whelan, the striker with Waterford. I saw him playing in Dublin earlier this year and I thought he looked good.
Finally Darragh, your team have qualified for the final of the Enda McGuill Cup. What are your thoughts on that? I am really looking forward to it. We will be playing against Bohs in the final. I haven’t played in many finals before so I hope to get the opportunity to play in this one. Playing against Bohs you couldn’t really ask for more. It’s great to be involved.