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Mohan: Players must do all they can

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Republic of Ireland U-19 head coach Tom Mohan

Republic of Ireland U-19 head coach Tom Mohan

SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland U-19 head coach Tom Mohan

The Covid-19 shutdown has halted the careers of a promising generation of Irish footballers at a crucial time.

But Tom Mohan is sure that the mental strength of the group that has broken into the upper echelons of the English game will ensure they overcome it.

As Ireland U-19 manager, Mohan deals with players that are at a crossroads in their career, a stage where contracts are won and lost and individuals start to deal with the elation of promotion to senior teams or the rejection of being released.

It's been a good year with the high profile emergence of talent with the potential to last the course.

Mohan only got a fleeting opportunity to work with Troy Parrott (18), while he didn't have a strong relationship with Aaron Connolly (20), but he got to spend a little bit more time with the likes of Adam Idah (19) and Jason Knight (19) on the rise up to their ranks to U21 or senior level.

Big steps

Stoke's Nathan Collins (19) and West Brom's Dara O'Shea (21) have also taken big steps forward.

This is a setback they couldn't have envisaged but Mohan believes the ones who have already made a name for themselves are the lucky ones.

His concern surrounds cubs who would have viewed this year as an opportunity to let clubs know what they can do, especially as the inescapable reality is that there's always another crop coming up behind.

"Some players will adapt better than others," says Mohan, "There are players who thrive within the group setting. That's why it's important that clubs keep a daily contact with their players, to set them targets and keep them working if they can't train yet.

"Any players I've spoken to, I've asked them to treat it like an injury. They can use it to improve their strength and conditioning, their mobility. They are going to miss a lot of the football stuff, the high intensity training, but they must treat whatever they are doing as high intensity.

"Players are all hungry and want to have successful careers in the game but if they slack off now, it can be a major problem for them."

Mohan is confident the leading lights will adjust.

"They've experienced great moments in the game already " he says, asked specifically about characters such as Knight and Idah. "They've got their foot in the door. They've made an imprint, and the great thing about those characters is their love for the game."

For then unproven, question marks over underage and lower league football are likely to be stressful, especially if budgets are tightened.

"It can be very difficult for those lads who were looking to get out on loan, or maybe had their clubs looking to get them out on a loan this year. Maybe they are battling to get a new contract," admits Mohan.

"The big concern I had with a lot of lads when I rang them was to find out where they were. I felt it was important for them to get home (to Ireland) when they weren't in with their clubs. Rather than just going back to digs. The vast majority of them are home."

For Mohan, the work goes on although like all people involved in football, every plan for the year ahead comes with an asterisk attached.

UEFA are tweaking the structure of underage football towards a Nations League style concept and Ireland's stellar performances in recent years means they will be top tier. But fixture plans are up in the air.

"We all would love to get back out there but we must be conscious of the importance of protecting the vulnerable groups and respecting our frontline workers," he stressed.

Still, as a central figure in the FAI's coach education programme, Mohan remains engaged in regular meetings in this new normal. Zoom calls have allowed ideas to be shared and topics to be debated.

For the aspiring native coaches, Stephen Kenny's promotion to the role of Ireland manager is an inspiring tale given his modest playing CV.

Mohan points to how Kenny's journey started in his twenties. In other words, players could use their downtime to educate themselves in other ways.

The various international managers are hosting online seminars - webinars is the correct term - that are available to budding coaches around the country and it's Mohan's turn tomorrow.

The coronavirus has placed a strain on finances around the country and the natural fear is that development will suffer as a consequence, with the positivity of the FAI's rescue deal with the state and UEFA now eroded by the very real prospect of a year without money spinning home senior internationals.

Mohan's glass half full take on it is that coaches in Ireland are already accustomed to working off tight budgets.

"We're not like other countries with massive professional clubs and brilliant resources," said the Fermanagh native. "Our clubs are always trying to work within their limits and think outside the box."