NPL Preview: Positives aplenty as Academy First Team prepare for Floreat finale

PGFC Academy First Team Head Coach John Walmsley has hailed the progress his young charges have made over the course of the 2023 NPL WA campaign as they prepare for a final-round trip to Floreat Athena on Saturday (kick-off at 3pm).

A host of players have come to the fore in recent months as the Academy has continued to go from strength to strength and while this has inevitably thrown up some selection challenges, Walmsley is very happy with the bigger picture.

“From an individual player development perspective, it’s been really positive,” he said.

“There have been a number of lads that have ended up playing in the national teams and made their first-team debuts both within the NPL itself and in the A-League team.

“Robbie Cook, for example, was playing 16s last year and James Overy was playing 18s and all of a sudden, they’re mainstays in the [NPL] First Team.

“It’s been challenging in other areas in the sense of those successes meaning the boys going away with national teams and us having six or seven weeks of the season when we didn’t have them available.

“There have been boys going up to train with the A-League team and that has meant they haven’t been available for [NPL] matchdays or to train with us in the week, but obviously that’s part and parcel of being in the youth team.

“Sometimes you get punished in a way for being successful and developing players.

“But the biggest thing is that the boys kick on and develop and I think we’ve done a good job in improving the individuals throughout the season.”

At a personal level, meanwhile, Walmsley feels that he has developed as a coach during what has been his first campaign in charge of the Academy First Team.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said.

“We’ve got a really good group of players, not just in terms of football ability, but as people.

“They’re a good group to coach and I’ve learned a lot through the season about myself and about them and I’m in a strong position now to build on this moving forward.

“There’s been a lot of growth and plenty to think about and ponder for next season as well.”

Before those reflections can begin, however, the Head Coach has Saturday’s visit to E&D Litis Stadium to plan for and he believes that his side will head into the game buoyed by last week’s draw with champions-elect, Perth RedStar.

“I thought we edged being the better team on the day,” he said.

“We hit the post and the bar and probably had the better of the chances.

“I thought it was a good performance on and off the ball and we were unlucky not to get all three points.

“In terms of this weekend, it’s a case of just making sure that the boys that are available are ready to go and know what their jobs are on and off the ball.”

Ahead of the First Team game, the Under-18s and Under-20s will both be out to celebrate their respective league titles in winning style and Walmsley was full of praise for what the two groups have achieved this season.

“Congratulations to the 18s and 20s,” he said.

“They’ve been really consistent throughout the season and it really shows the depth of talent that is at the club.

“They’ve shown a great level of maturity in both groups and there’s definitely a lot of talent to work with there in years to come.”

The Under-18s’ fixture gets underway at 11am, followed by the Under-20s at 1pm and the First Team at 3pm.

Do get along and support the lads if you can.

(picture courtesy of Tom McCarthy)