RUGBY TOWN: Academy are champions at St George's Park

Rugby Town's Academy team celebrate their success at St George's Park
Rugby Town's Academy team celebrate their success at St George's Park

First pre-season friendly for first team on Saturday at home to Racing Club Warwick

Rugby Town FC’s Academy squad returned as champions from the FA’s national football centre last week, after scooping the Premier League VAR tournament trophy at St.George’s Park.

Rugby Town Academy in their 'away' strip at St George's Park

Rugby Town Academy in their 'away' strip at St George's Park

It was a case of third time lucky for Academy boss Liam O’Neill’s charges, after Valley had reached the semi-finals in the equivalent competition a year ago and then had lost in the final there in January, with the success coming only just over 12 months on from the launch of the academy programme at Butlin Road.

The tournaments are organised by PGMOL - the group responsible for match officials across the professional game - and are primarily used to help prepare referees for new law changes and other new initiatives.

Town’s triumph came after they had topped a tough group which included three National League clubs and League Two side Carlisle United, before navigating successfully past two further National League outfits - Havant & Waterlooville and Aldershot - in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.

This set up a final against local rivals the Strachan Foundation - whom Valley had already beaten in the group stage - and goals from Kyle Tott and Mad Semahimbo secured Town the crown.

Player of the Tournament Kyle Tott, Josh Steele academy captain and Mad Semahimbo who scored the goal of tournament

Player of the Tournament Kyle Tott, Josh Steele academy captain and Mad Semahimbo who scored the goal of tournament

There was individual glory for both of the scorers too, with Tott named Player of the Tournament in addition to the Top Goalscorer award, whilst Semahimbo’s strike in that final earned him the Goal of the Tournament nomination.

O’Neill was understandably delighted with the efforts of his squad. He said: “We had come close to winning this tournament on two previous attempts and the calibre of opposition was even greater this time too.

“It was a relentless schedule of eight games over three days, so to remain unbeaten against these types of established academies and ultimately lift the trophy was an exceptional achievement.

“The lads just got stronger and stronger and their levels of fitness were outstanding. We have had several opposition coaches message their congratulations for the style in which we played - which is very important to me, as it’s great to win but it’s also important to do it in a certain way.”

Goalkeeping coach and head of recruitment Scott Dutton and academy manager Liam O'Neill

Goalkeeping coach and head of recruitment Scott Dutton and academy manager Liam O'Neill

Town’s Academy side will return for pre-season full-time at the beginning of August, and will represent the club in a number of national academy/college leagues, the midland floodlit youth league and the FA Youth Cup over the forthcoming campaign.

# Meanwhile Town’s first team pre-season preparations continue with a first warm-up fixture this Saturday, when newly-promoted Midland Football League Premier side Racing Club Warwick visit Butlin Road for a run-out on the 3G pitch.

The game will kick-off at 3pm. and attendance is free, with Valley boss Carl Adams using the match to fine-tune his squad ahead of the kick-off of the new season in three weeks time.

Adams has announced the commitment of a number of key players from last year’s squad for the 2019/20 term, with captain Loyiso Recci, goalkeeper Matt Hill, player-coach Justin Marsden, Lee Thomas and last season’s main award winner Charlie Evans all agreeing to return to the fold.

It was third time lucky for Rugby Town Academy after finishing as semi-finalists and runners-up at the tournament

It was third time lucky for Rugby Town Academy after finishing as semi-finalists and runners-up at the tournament

The Town boss is hoping to confirm the return of a further three or four players from his 2018/19 pool, along with a number of new arrivals over the coming weeks as Rugby prepare for their second consecutive year in the United Counties League Premier.

Following on from the Warwick friendly, Valley will travel to another MFL team Highgate next Tuesday (16th) for a 7.30 p.m. kick-off.