Youth manager John Dempster has said that he ‘can’t ask for much more’ from Stags’ boss David Flitcroft in terms of strengthening the links between the academy and first team.
Dempster, who manages Mansfield’s under-18s, explained how the Stags’ first team boss puts a ‘massive emphasis’ on developing younger players.
“It’s brilliant for me and the academy staff [youth players moving up to the first team]. That’s why we do the job that we do,” said Dempster.
“The boys that have made the step up and have been in around the first team have a long way to go. But the experience that they are getting alongside some of the more senior pros and what they’re learning on a day-to-day basis is something we can’t actually give them.
“The link between the academy and first team has been brilliant. We had a technical board meeting last week where we were able to share our views and talk about players.
“We can’t really ask for much more really. Having been to see the first team in pre-season and in the league and cup campaigns, these players are going to have to really step up because standards have gone up. The performance against Accrington last week was exceptional.
“[David Flitcroft puts] a massive emphasis [on developing youth players]. He knows all of the under-18s and all of the under-21 players. I can’t really ask for much more in terms of the enthusiasm and the interest that he’s shown. Him and Ben [Futcher] have been brilliant so far.
“Both the gaffer and Futch have been really complimentary about their [youth players’] physiques, how they’re quite robust, which is uncommon in academy players. They’ve been pleased with their intensity levels, though when they train with the first team they are being pushed to the maximum.”
"He [Flitcroft] knows all of the under-18s and all of the under-21 players. I can’t really ask for much more in terms of the enthusiasm and the interest that he’s shown. Him and Ben [Futcher] have been brilliant so far."
Dempster also discussed Jordan Graham, Lewis Gibbens, Henri Wilder and Nyle Blake, who have all been recently involved with the first team at One Call Stadium.
“We’ve had really good reports back on all of those players [Jordan Graham, Lewis Gibbens, Henri Wilder, Nyle Blake],” he said. “The feedback from the players is about the intensity in training. We try and recreate first team training, but one thing you can’t recreate is actually playing alongside or playing against the players that have been there and done it.
“People want to see a pathway but understand how hard it is to become a professional footballer. But the pathway is there and the boys that have the ability and right attitude to step up, I have that opportunity.
“It is probably tougher than ever to eventually go all of the way through and make your first team debut, but the pathway is there. The boys that fall short will hopefully have been given a good education to go into non-league and earn a few quid elsewhere.”
The former Stags’ defender then reflected back on the four years since taking up his managerial role at the club, and explained that the academy has improved massively.
“It’s been a brilliant education for me and the players so far and long may that continue.
“Time has flown [since I took the job in the academy]. They say time flies when you’re having fun and that’s certainly been the case. Personally, I’ve learned to no end from a coaching point of view, and more so from an off-the-field point of view.
“The club have been very wise with some of the appointments they’ve made in coaches. Mike Whitlow, Scott Rickards, Richard Cooper and Jamie McGuire have come into the fold and Mark Peters has been with me since the start. They’re really experienced in football and they have been key in the way the academy has developed.
“The directors have been massively supportive. Mark Hawkins and Steve Hymas, who have been the people I report to, and also Chris Ball. He’s been the brains behind it. Without him, we wouldn’t be in the place that we are.
“We want to continue developing the players, to continue preparing them as best as possible for when they do step up into the first team environment and to improve the programme. We are still in infancy as we’re just going into our fourth season.
“There are areas that I have highlighted [to improve]. If we keep improving the programme, hopefully the players will keep improving. Then hopefully we’ll see one or two of them in and around the first team at some point. We have to be patient as the gap from under-18 football to first team football is massive. But we are bridging it.”