Walsall Professional Development Phase Coach Ryan Simmonds feels the Under 18s will benefit from the experience of playing against strong men’s teams in recent weeks.
The young Saddlers overcame Heath Hayes in the semi-final of the Walsall Senior Cup before they faced Rushall Olympic, who were fresh from their promotion to the National League North, in the final on Tuesday evening.
Simmonds was full of praise for how his players performed and believes they will have learned a lot from the experience, particularly against Rushall in the final.
“We’re not going to get that kind of opposition playing a normal league game but what they will have now is a bit of experience,” Simmonds said.
“For example, Ollie (Jones) and Tom (Cox), they have to dictate the line and not allow the centre forward to dictate the line.
“When you are playing against a 17-year-old kid, it’s easier to do rather than players who have played in the league, they will dictate the line so it’s trying to knock these experiences together. For RAM (Ronan Maher) to pass and follow instead of dribble all the time because he’s going to get kicked so it’s these little details that they only learn by having these kinds of games.
“The boys were brilliant. Shaky start but we really grew into the game and scored a great goal through RAM and possibly could have got another one in the first half.
“We knew they were going to come out strong in the second half and it was trying to ride that initial 10/15 minutes. Unfortunately, they got another goal from a second phase but the boys carried on going. A lot of them are 16/17-year-olds playing against seasoned pros but I thought they were fantastic.”
It’s been an encouraging end to a difficult season for the Under 18s whose performances improved in the latter weeks of the campaign.
Simmonds believes there is a good platform and positives to build on next season.
“It’s that character,” he stated.
“For the last three or four weeks, we’ve spoke about the character and the boys don’t stop, it’s pleasing to see.
“It got the crowd on their feet in the last 20 minutes. RAM, Dylan (Thomas), Marv (Onabirekhanlen) driving with the ball and it’s that positivity that we’ve got to build on and then it’s those naive mistakes and learning the game. That’s what we’ve got to build on now.”