To read all last season blog posts scroll through posts on the young guns page
Brandon Cooper (Swansea City) born 2000, Defender. This season has started positively for Brandon, as he has regularly performed for the Swansea first team and shown that he is very capable of being a strong defensive player in Championship football circumstances. Hopefully, it brings an end to what has been rather frustrating times for him, as he’s developed to the status that I’m sure he will have a strong determination to retain. Making his first team debut in the 2018/19 season when starting a Carabao Cup match, further opportunities have been hard to come by and was particularly unlucky with injuries last season. Going out on loan to Newport County at the start of it, his performances for the Exiles was of such quality it instigated a loan recall for the second half of the season. Unfortunately, an injury sustained in training within a few days of his return was a severe blow, exacerbated by setbacks as the weeks went along. Now, it seems that some better fortune is granted to him, and his aim will be to establish himself as a regular feature in the Swansea defence. It will not be easy, the Swans have a strong group of defenders in their squad, and all will be vying for matchday selection. Brandon was an outstanding player for Wales as a schoolboy, captaining the team, and has continued to represent the nation through the age groups. He has been a stalwart for the U-21 team for the last few seasons and is moving ever closer to a time where he will challenge for senior consideration. His good form in League Two last season prompted a call up to the senior squad when he was needed as an injury replacement addition.
Niall Huggins (Sunderland) born 2000, Midfielder. As last season came to a close, most if not all of us Wales fans who held an opinion of how this season’s events would unfold for Niall, expected he would be a possible candidate for a promotion from the development to the first team squad and have a chance to accumulate some first team minutes over the coming months. He had an impressive season playing for the Leeds United U-23 team, doing well enough to be selected on the first team bench for a total of nine league games and an FA Cup tie. He was introduced off the bench in one of those league games, making his debut when playing for most of the second half of the match. He acquitted himself well enough to earn a positive review of his performance and the fans were pleased to have witnessed a young player they thought could be a future first team representative. As pre-season preparations evolved in the summer, it became evident that the Leeds club management believed they had an abundance of talent available for the positions he could occupy and so decided he was surplus to requirements. Sunderland are the beneficiaries, having recently negotiated for him to join them on a permanent basis and so he will now have the opportunity to play regular first team football. He has already made his debut for the club when he played in the Carabao Cup match last week and was then on the bench for their league match at the weekend. He will want to show that he is very capable of playing at League One level and be one that can perform at higher levels of the game as he develops. This week, Niall will be away from his club as he joins the Wales U-21 squad for their upcoming match. He will likely add to the caps he has already collected at that level and be keen to put in another good performance wearing the national shirt.
Luke Jephcott (Plymouth Argyle) born 2000, Forward. A successful time as a scholar prompted management to sign Luke on a fulltime professional contract upon its completion at the end of the 2017/18 season. The following season he made his first team debut when introduced off the bench for the last few minutes of a league game a couple of months into the season. He did get quite a few more bench assignments and accumulated a number of appearances but excepting for one league game and an EFL Trophy match where he played the whole games, his minutes played were only a few as he was largely introduced into games for the final minutes. At the start of the 2019/20 season, he was loaned out to nearby club Truro City, but recalled by the club at the start of the January transfer window. It was prompted by the good performances he had produced during the first half of the season, particularly so in the goal scoring rate he had managed. He was given a first team opportunity immediately after his return and duly obliged by continuing his good scoring form at League 2 level. He has continued to be a regular in the team since that time and has become a valuable goal contributor on a regular basis. Some speculation has been generated about interest from more prominent clubs, but Plymouth remain his employers for the present. If he does continue to shine in League One, there may well be offers that the club would find difficult to refuse at some point. Luke is amassing quite a collection of Wales caps in recent seasons, a double-digit amount at U-19 level has been followed by an ever growing number for the U-21’s.
Ryan Stirk (Birmingham City - on loan at Mansfield Town) born 2000, Midfielder. Ryan progressed through the academy teams and then as a scholar with Birmingham, to eventually receive a fulltime professional contract at the club, becoming a member of the U-23 squad for the start of the 2019/20 season. Most Blues fans with an interest in how their young players were performing in the club’s development teams certainly had high hopes of eventual first team involvement for Ryan from a young age. He made his debut for their U-18 team as a fourteen year old and then as a second year scholar played in about a half of that season’s U-23 team games. Such an occasion duly arrived as the 2019/20 season came toward its conclusion with some appearances on the bench for the Championship team. There was no first team debut at that time and then last season, as the team struggled for consistency, languishing at the lower end of the league table, team selection focused on experience and physical attributes, leaving Ryan unable to gain any further first team exposure until late season. An eventual improvement in team fortunes, after a change in management brought some relief to the situation. The new manager, also impressed with Ryan’s ability, gave him his first team debut, and praised him for his performance. This season, a decision was made, that rather than Ryan possibly only making occasional first team appearances, both club and player would benefit by him playing regularly at first team level. A loan arrangement with Mansfield was therefore agreed. Ryan has represented Wales on many occasions, from schoolboy level and through the age groups to now being a member of the U-21 squad.
This week, it is four members of the Wales U-21 squad who have been the focus of my attention. All four have done well enough in their young careers so far, that they can be considered viable potential candidates for the senior squad at some point. If they can keep producing improvements in their game to raise it to the level of becoming contenders for such considerations, it will make the decision making for the composition of the squad at selection times even more difficult than it is becoming at present. It will however be a positive addition in further increasing the depth of the squad, providing good insurance when there is a large number unavailable. Brandon has in fact joined the senior squad this week as it has suffered a significant number of withdrawls. Hopefully, by the time my next contribution is available on the website, it will contain details of the senior side successfully accumulating six more points, and a happy ending to that elusive World Cup Finals inclusion attempt, remains as a tempting prospect for us to contemplate.