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    page originally posted : Tue 10 Dec 19: refresh for updates
    Young Guns

    Harry Clifton (Grimsby Town)
    Harry started playing regularly for the Mariner’s first team in the final quarter of the 2017/18 season and much to the delight of the fans who enjoy witnessing an academy graduate progressing, has maintained his place in the side on a regular basis ever since that time. His good club form gave him an opportunity to experience international football when he was selected for the Wales U-21 squad that played a couple of friendly matches in Albania in May after attending a training camp for prospective candidates earlier in the spring. He has continued his association with that group and has been included in each squad announced for this season’s qualifying matches. He made his competitive international debut when introduced from the bench for a match in the early part of the season. Having already played in well over half a century of first team games for Grimsby, this experience of a good level of competitive football makes him an excellent addition to the squad. His aim now will be not only to improve his game at club level but also to impress enough to get a starting assignment in international games. In the longer term he will want to challenge his ability to perform at a higher league level than his present status, success in that respect would possibly see him become a candidate for the Wales senior squad at some future time.

    Brandon Cooper (Swansea City)
    For quite a few years, scouting projections, not only on a local level but also nationally have indicated an opinion that Brandon is candidate with the quality to play regular first team football for the Swans. As he has moved through his time as a scholar with the youth team and now in the U-23 development team, there is no reason to dispute such a forecast. Supporting evidence is also provided by his performances in international circumstances as he has proudly worn the Wales shirt on the field of play on many occasions representing the nation throughout the age groups. He is now and has been doing so for the last couple of seasons, a regular performer for the Wales U-21 team. Another aspect of Brandon’s quality is that on numerous occasions when he plays, he is assigned the captaincy role for the team, indicating his strong leadership qualities of example and encouragement as well as his obvious skills. At club level, he has only managed one first team appearance thus far, in an EFL Cup match in the early part of last season. One of the strong points of Swansea teams in recent times has been a defensive strength as well as stability and this has tended to limit any opportunities for Brandon when he has been on the bench a few times. Some amount of extra experience was gained when the Swansea U-21 team competed in the EFL Trophy in the two seasons prior to this one and Brandon played in some of those games. Time of course is still very much on his side, he has not yet celebrated his 20th birthday, it will occur in early 2020. Whether the Swansea management team will decide in the short term on a loan assignment as a means of honing his game further remains to be seen.

    George Ratcliffe (Cardiff City – on loan at Barry Town United)
    Continuing an association of many years with Cardiff City, from his time as a young schoolboy to the present, George is now a fulltime professional at the club. Having been a regular feature for the U-18 team during the previous two seasons, Cardiff’s management team decided an important next step in the progression of his career with an agreement to loan his services to Barry Town United for the season. George has apparently relished the challenge presented to him and according to reports has performed very well in Cymru Premier League matches. The extra competitive edge of first team football is a circumstance that a young player must quickly adapt to in order to be successful and as George has played on a regular basis for Barry, he seems to have made that next very important step in his career. This season, George has played international football with the Wales U-21 team, a continuation of national duty, having collected caps in all the younger age categories in previous season. The ambition is surely to be the goalkeeper of choice, for the Cardiff City first team at club level and of course the Wales senior side on the international stage. A great deal of hard work, dedication and determination have been required for him to possess the current positive resume, qualities if maintained may make such conjectures a strong possibility.

    Ryan Stirk (Birmingham City)
    By the time Ryan became of age to leave school and join the ranks of the scholars at the St Andrews club he had already gained a good deal of U-18 football experience, making around two dozen appearances for the club’s team over the previous couple of seasons. Following on from that, he became increasingly important and influential in the youth team, so unsurprisingly Birmingham elevated him to a fulltime professional contract soon after his 17th birthday. After this time, he was used infrequently at U-18 level, the preference being to enhance his development with regular involvement in U-23 football. This season, he is considered a member of the U-23 squad, but having been on the bench for the first team in an early season EFL Cup match and with inclusion in first team training at times, maybe a first team debut for Ryan can be anticipated to be a possibility sooner rather than later. Not only has Ryan impressed at club level but also with the Wales international teams as well, representing the country in schoolboy, U-17, U-19 competitions and this season with the U-21 team. With an opinion shared by many, that the Wales senior squad is presently at an unprecedented state in terms of strength in depth, there are a host of young guns such as Ryan who seem to have the potential to provide a positive continuation of this trend in the years ahead.

    With the festive season almost upon us, I extend my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you. 2020 of course, promises to be another very interesting year for Welsh football.

    - John Jones.

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    Posted: Tuesday 17th December 2019
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