Kevin O’Hara became the first player from the Forth Valley regional Academy to receive international honours - then became the first to score an international goal
The Academy set-up, based in Stirling University at the old Falkirk FC training centre, is an amalgamation between Stenhousemuir and Falkirk FC - with an association to the third senior team in the Falkirk district - East Stirlingshire FC.
O’Hara (16) played for Scotland in the 3-0 Victory Shield win over Northern Ireland last month, then scored last week when he headed Scotland into the lead against Wales
The header set-up a dramatic finale to the youth tournament against England on November 29 at Starks Park.
Jamie Swinney from the Academy said: “Kevin has given the younger players proof that they too can get to that level in one, two or three years. It’s a great boost for the Academy - but something we want to be the norm. Although he’s first we can’t have him being the last either so he gives us something to continue to work towards.
Swinney is head of childrenat the Stirling Uni base, working alongside Stenhousemuir’s Graeme Robertson who is FV elite development coach. From Falkirk, there’s representation from head of coaching Craig McPherson and Creag Robertson - the academy manager.
Robertson and Swinney recently passed their Youth Lisence and under-15 coach Robbie Liddell is halfway towards his award.
“We are one of only eight Elite four-star academies in Scotland,” Swinney added. “Five star academies are even rarer, and to get there, qualifications are a criteria we must fulfil. This, and having Brian Crawford as a child development and welfare officer, goes some way to getting there.
“It has been a brave move from both clubs to enter into this project and while we’re running for the initial three year period, I’m sure others will develop, form and begin running in their areas.”
Alex Smith, who operates as technical director for Falkirk, reprises the role for the Academy, added: “It’s all about giving it proper time to work - there’s still a way to go with the young players but, for it to be up and running in the time it was is going well.
“A lot of the work had to be done to gel together - a lot of people have worked very hard. to impress the parents, and it’s all been done excellently.”
That’s reflected in Smith’s role now too. He is not only the go-between for Falkirk and the Academy, he’s now advising Stenhousemuir on their players within the set-up, and when they’re ready for the step up to first team level.
“I keep an eye on all the players, and I’ll sometimes take in two or three games on a Sunday. When the time is right I’ll report back to Gary Holt, or as it is now Martyn Corrigan at Stenhousemuir.
“Of course it’s up to them when or if they use the player, but I help in the changeover from the Academy to club - from identifying when they’re ready and then the transition to the club. When it comes to keeping players in the Academy, or moving them on it’s done by consensus, we all have an input - myself, the two Craigs, Graeme Robertson, Jamie and the two managers, plus experienced coaches within the Academy like Stevie Fulton.
“There’s a lot of opinions but we’re all on a similar wavelength, we can all see the same things and aspects of what we’re looking for - we’re not far apart on what a footballer should be.
“To have Kevin called up has been fantastic too.“
O’Hara is a registered Falkirk player, but he was named in the Scotland squad as representing Forth Valley - something which Smith feels may need to be addressed in future.
“I feel the clubs should be recognised in some way and, although it’s important to be a united Forth Valley team - there should also be recognition of what both clubs are putting into the set-up, and that both are involved.
“No-one is treated differently dependent on who their registered club is, they’re all Forth Valley players but maybe when it comes down to it, there should be a bracket when they are named within international squads to recognise the efforts and identification of both clubs and the potential they’ve seen, and East Stirlingshire further down the line.”
The clubs work in identifying players continues apace, and is even more important, according to Swinney.
“Although we’re joined in the Academy, recruitment is still done independently - and it’s as important, if not more so now, than it previously was.
“The higher quality of player coming in, the more chance there is of that level being maintained, developed and an elite player exiting the Academy back to the clubs and performance schools - which is the ultimate aim.”