2017 was arguably Athlone Town’s worst year in its 130 year history. This season is bound to be interesting, writes Dylan O’Neill
Henry Phipps & Lee Shields find out about Jugger and look at how the only two teams in Ireland are trying to make the sport popular
The 2016/17 football season saw the rise of plenty of young stars. By the end of the season young players were attracting big clubs and massive transfer fees. Over the summer transfer window Ousmane Dembele, aged 20 from Borussia Dortmund, was signed by Barcelona for a fee of €105m, while 18 year-old Kylian Mbappe was signed by PSG from Monaco in a loan deal that will see him sign for the Parisian super club next summer for a fee of €145m.
With these young players and many more showing their worth, I decided to find out which of the top 5 leagues are the most generous when it comes to giving these players opportunities.
Based on the total number of minutes played by all players last season, against the total number of those minutes given to youth players, decided as players aged 21 and under, I calculated the percentage of playing minutes given to youth players in each of Europe’s top 5 football leagues.
Based on this data, the French Ligue 1 is the best location for young talent to play, coming in with nearly 3 times as many minutes given to youth players as the last placed Premier League.
To delve further, I calculated the most and least youth friendly clubs in each league based on their minutes given to youth players.
Surprisingly, it’s one of the most expensive squads in the Premier League that tops the list for giving minutes to youth players, although aside from the academy graduate Marcus Rashford the remaining minutes come from Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, coming in at a collective €85m in transfer fees.
It’s no surprise to see Spurs so high with the majority of their minutes coming from Young Player of the Year Dele Alli, and Everton make their way in at third thanks to Mason Holgate and Tom Davies making their way onto the scene this season.
Crystal Palace are the only team in any of the Top 5 leagues to not give a single minute to youth players, while their neighbours in the league table Swansea gave less than a full 90 minutes themselves. Chelsea, however, were flying without youth, although most of their young lads were finding playing time over at Vitesse.
There are similar findings in other leagues with Serie A leaders Juventus, and Real Madrid and Barcelona battling it out for the title in Spain, all rejecting the use of youth themselves. The only player to really make a mark in any of these teams is Marcos Asensio at Real Madrid, whom Zidane has taken a liking to. Maybe it’s the luxury of being able to send players out on loan to develop at smaller clubs that allows these teams to have fantastic squads while also having thriving youth at a moment’s notice.
Toulouse lead the line for youth players, they’re currently sitting in 12th, after two relegation-threatening 17th place finishes in a row maybe the young lads have been the kick that team needs to move up the table.
Finally I took a look at the individuals who have found the most success in each position this season.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was an ever-present for AC Milan last season, leading to a pursuit of the 18 year-old by Juventus who he desperately tried to sign for over the summer before changing his mind and staying with Milan.
Football tends to flow more freely as you move up the pitch and so generally teams like to have more consistent defensive line ups than in attack, and this is shown here as the further forward you go from Goalkeeper to Forward, the less minutes are given on average.
By Daniel Osborne
Henry Phipps & Lee Shields explore the world of Quidditch in Dublin and the growing popularity of the magical sport.
Representing Ireland at an Olympics is a major event for any sportsperson. Gavin Hyland speaks to Olympian Judy Reynolds about Rio 2016 and her chances of being at Tokyo 2020.
Fifteen years ago, Judy Reynolds moved to Germany with no knowledge of the language and nowhere to live. She was supposed to be there for nine months to compete in dressage but the Irish Olympian is still living there today.
Reynolds has performed in three world equestrian games, three European dressage championships, the dressage world cup and the Olympic Games in Rio.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle of what you want to achieve, it is different and there is something very special about it. The best of the best are there representing their country,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds speaks patriotically about the honour of representing Ireland and the overwhelming experience of walking through the Olympic village.
Competing in international competitions has allowed Reynolds to see many interesting places. “We do get to see many amazing places, from Doha and a small village in Poland to competing on the Austrian Alps.”
She said: “We do enjoy these places, but it is never like a holiday. We are always focused on the competition.”
Rio was special for Reynolds as she finished a very impressive 16th in the individual event. She puts her good performance partly down to good preparation. “We were in Rio 12 days before competition and that is a long time to work with just one horse,” explained Reynolds.
Speaking to the Kildare native, it is obvious that she puts herself under immense pressure to perform to the best of her ability and she is acutely aware that despite living in Germany for 15 years, she is representing Ireland.
The future looks bright for Irish equestrian as the showjumping team won gold at the European Championships and individual bronze.
“Dressage in Ireland at grassroots level is growing hugely and we are climbing high in the world rankings,” according to Reynolds.
Many people still find the financial cost for equestrian sports as the largest hurdle but Reynolds says this is improving.
“The cost is always going to be somewhat high because it is expensive to take really good care of horses but there are heavily subsidised camps for those who want to get involved but worry about the cost.”
The future of the sport may also be improved if Reynolds makes it to the Olympics in 2020. “I really want to go in 2020 but it all depends on Vancouver K, JP to us.”
Reynolds says the horses are essentially her partner when it comes to competing.
“We are working hard with other horses coming up behind Vancouver K, so hopefully we will be ready by the time 2020 comes around.”
It is too soon for Reynolds to be contemplating retiring but for her, Ireland is home. “If I could do what I do here (Germany) in Ireland, I would,” said Reynolds.
The Olympian has had a hugely successful career to date and based on her determined tone and focused attitude towards competing, it is fair to say her career is far from its final hurdle.
The increasingly popular bouldering scene has climbers addicted. Louise Carroll visits Gravity Climbing Centre to find out what all the fuss is about.
Arriving at Gravity Climbing Centre, Inchicore, the volume of countless voices creates an echo that hums throughout.
The air is cool and people converse in every space, creating not just a sporting affair but also a large social gathering.
Tall, vividly painted walls zig-zag through the well-lit warehouse with colourful holds jutting out all-over.
These hand and foot holds range in colour, strategically placed, grading the level of difficulty for each route that can be taken on the walls, some stretching to a height of four and a half metres.
Not spectacularly high — but these walls are for bouldering as opposed to the likes of traditional climbing.
Don’t let height fool you — many of these walls make for a much more intense climb compared to that of the outdoors and holds are changed regularly to keep the routes fresh.
No ropes either — simply a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag that improves grip and reduces moisture. From here it’s up to the climber to hold on tight.
Those who have been bouldering for some time are easily recognisable — naturally protruding muscles on nimble bodies seem to be made perfectly for these dynamic leaps and movements.
The walls vary in width, incline and complexity, with some emulating caves, along with perfectly horizontal roof walls for the more advanced boulderers to try their hand at.
Overlaying every inch of ground is a gigantic ‘crash pad’ — essentially a blue mattress that is around one foot in depth — guaranteeing a soft landing when tired muscles give in.
It sounds like these precautions take the fear away entirely, however when I give it a go myself, it’s clear that a natural instinct to hold on tight and not let go is well and truly instilled.
I stand and watch the room for a few minutes, witnessing various levels of expertise from complete beginners all the way to advanced, and a willingness from many to help others improve.
It requires not only strength, but also demands focus and concentration. This can be seen before the climb, where many plan the strategy they will take to tackle it.
I meet Rob who started climbing over a year ago. “People look at where their body position should be, they’re checking that their feet are in the right position, that their hips aren’t out too much from the wall, looking at where is the best place to grip onto — there’s a lot of problem solving.”
“It’s expensive at first because you’re paying about ten euro each time — that’s to be able to borrow shoes and that,” he explains .
“It makes you strong and lean, not big and bulky,” says Rob. “Some people will tell you girls get on better when they start climbing. They don’t have much upper body strength so they focus a lot more on their technique which is huge.”
“A lot of guys would end up being able to climb not because they’re necessarily good at it but mostly because they can just hang on. Climbing can be very relaxed when you know how to do it properly and work on technique.”
A climber named Aoife explained how she began after being urged by her sister to do so. “My sister started bouldering when she was living in Australia. We went together here in Dublin — it was so much fun but I was terrible,” she says.
After an induction session and weeks of practice, Aoife began to enjoy the sport. “Everyone is very open and they just want to progress and have fun climbing — there’s a great attitude here.”
“There’s enough time to sit down, be tired and have a chat with someone. There’s a puzzle element to it also — if someone can give you a tip you’ll often end up completing that climb because of it,” she says.
How did bouldering come about?
The origins of bouldering are uncertain — some point to French alpine climbers in the 19th century who used sandstone boulders for practice when unable to make it up the mountains.
This potentially was the beginning of bouldering as a sport, but it is certainly an activity that nature has provided for man since the dawn of time.
Although popular in Europe, the US and Canada for many years now, bouldering is relatively new to Ireland.
Ricky Young, manager at Gravity Climbing Centre explains that “there were no sort of commercial walls in Ireland,” before Gravity opened over five years ago. “There were a few in Universities but they were mostly rope.”
“There were bouldering walls in England but none in Ireland,” says Ricky. “We thought the whole idea of bouldering was exciting and could certainly be expanded upon.”
There are noticeably more men than women climbing the walls, but compared to some other sports, it is doing exceedingly well at attracting more women to it. It’s probably around sixty per cent men, forty per cent women.”
There seems to be an air of teamwork and good nature among the climbers despite it being a sport played solely by the individual.
Competitions are run regularly for any climber that would like to compete and all ability is catered for in these.
“Mountaineering Ireland run a couple of different championships. We would also compete in England or in Europe,” says Ricky. “There’s an awful lot of opportunity and it’s also being included in the Olympics in 2020.”
Bouldering builds on both the physical and mental aspects of our bodies. Outside of competition, climbers compete with themselves and when you’ve given it a go yourself, it’s clear why this meditative and engaging sport is exploding in popularity.
Feature image by Louise Carroll
Video by Louise Carroll, made using GoPro Quik for Android
As the Irish national team begin to perform well on the international stage once again, Gary Ibbotson looks at how our young hopefuls deal with living away from home.