Dixie Robinson: Youth development is at the forefront of Dungannon Swifts’ progress


With transfer fees soaring, many Irish League managers are finding themselves completely out of the market and having to review their recruitment policies.

ut a Danske Bank Premiership club, Dungannon Swifts have relied on producing their own talent over the years to join the big boys and maintain their top-flight status for almost two decades now.

Joe McAree oversaw that elevation alongside current Head of Development Dixie Robinson, both knowing they would have to develop and produce their own talent to try and compete.

Passion and good training are the keys to success, says Robinson, who has been at the Tyrone club for 38 years, having been signed as a player by McAree before taking on various coaching roles.

“The passion, the love for the club and, without wishing to blow any trumpets, the caliber of our coaching staff has really helped our young players develop at the club,” Robinson said.

“We don’t have a lot of support so we can’t compete financially with some of the bigger clubs, so we’ve always been important to the development of young people at Dungannon.

“It’s a matter of unavoidable needs.

“Joe started and I got involved. I was interested.

“Actually, Rodney McAree and Darren Murphy were two of the first youngsters through and they did well.

“Mark McAllister and JP Gallagher played in the 2007 Irish Cup final against Linfield and then were signed by the Blues, along with Jamie Tomelty.

“David Scullion was in the same team and then scored the winning goal in the 2015 Irish Cup final for Glentoran, Michael Ward as well.

“Niall McGinn and Luke McCullough were part of Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland squad to play in the Euro 2016 final in France and Liam Donnelly is another current international who has come through the ranks here.

“Dermot McCaffrey went to Hibs and played international Under-21 football and then we have a number of players who left Dungannon to sign professional deals with clubs in England.

“Conor Bradley is at Liverpool, as is goalkeeper Liam Hughes. Conor played in the same team as Sean McAllister and Aaron Donnelly, who are with Everton and Nottingham Forest respectively – not in academies, on full-time professional contracts. It’s phenomenal.

“Darren Robinson is another, just 17, but he was on the Derby County bench last weekend.

“They all went through Dungannon.

“Michael Forbes from Ardboe, he signed for West Ham a year and a half ago when he was just 16. He’s another bright young talent.

“And of course we can claim a GAA All-Ireland winner in Niall Morgan, who won it with Tyrone last year. I believe he could have had a successful career in football had he chosen this way.

Darragh McBrien and Oisin Smyth are among the current generation of young players catching the eye of rival teams, with Linfield moving away from the former and Glentoran considering the latter.

It’s a path well traveled for the young Swifts as Stangmore Park has proven to be a stepping stone to trophy success with other clubs, having gained the experience they need.

“Seanan Clucas (Glentoran), Chris Hegarty, Jarlath O’Rourke (both Crusaders), Jamie Glackin (Coleraine), Paul McElroy (Ballymena), they’ve all been through Stangmore Park,” Robinson explained.

“We have a close relationship with Dungannon United Youth, for whom I am manager, so when they leave Dungannon United at 15, young players can join the Swifts where I oversee their development from 16 to 18.

“If you play for Swift at 20, chances are you’ve played over 50 games for the club. Young players will have opportunities here.

“Dean Shiels’ current squad is littered with young talent, as well as a few experienced players.

“Terry Devlin has been excellent, Darragh McBrien, Oisin Smyth, Ethan McGee, Caolin Coyle, Ben Gallagher, James Convie, Cahal McGinty, Rhyss Campbell, they are an excellent group of young players, all around 20 years old.

“Some managers have their hands tied, they can’t risk throwing a 17-year-old into the deep end, which is understandable, when we give young players a platform because we have to.

“Dean has been fantastic, he’s so passionate about the game and he has the energy that maybe I don’t have anymore, but I like to think I have the experience.

“The chairman, Keith Boyd, is very supportive and gives me free rein in youth development and we will always deliver, because of the quality of coaching.

“I’m just the focal point or figurehead, there are a lot of dedicated coaches and staff at the club and we are very grateful to them.

“I love what I do for the club because it’s not a science, there’s something new every day, whether you’re coaching 6-year-olds or 16-year-olds.

“You see a throw-in, a shot, a pass of play and you think, ‘One day this boy could play for the Swifts,’ and that gives you a real buzz.”

Quick Movers

Rodney McAree City of Bristol

Darren Murphy Portadown

Brand McAllister Linfield

JP Gallagher Linfield

Jamie Tomelty Linfield

niall McGinn City of Derry

Chris Hegarty Millwall

Luke McCullough Man Utd

Liam Donnelly Fulham

Conor Bradley liverpool

Liam Hughes Celtic

Sean McAllister Everton

Aaron Donnelly Nottm Forest

Darren Robinson Derby

Michael Forbes West Ham

David scullion Glentoran

Michael room Glentoran

Dermot McCaffrey hibernian

Sean Keys Preston NE

Jamie glack of crusaders

Jarlath O’Rourke crusaders

Paul McElroy crusaders


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