Player development is the name of the game for Ashfield FC Under-21s, where coach Phil Docherty is focused on bringing through the next group of talented youngsters so they are ready to make the step-up to the Juniors.
With a newly revamped ground, the Peugeot Ashfield Stadium in Possilpark, that they share with the Glasgow Tigers speedway team, and the promise that those who shine will be considered for the Juniors side, Phil Docherty is confident that Ashfield are a good proposition for young talent.
“It’s like a whole new club we’re trying to build now," he said. "It’s all about building for the future, getting players in for the senior team. Now you can actually sign dual-contracts which allows the boys to play 21s and Junior football, so it’s better for their development. It means if they get called up for the juniors they can play and get on a wee run and maybe if their form dips they can drop back down to the 21s.”
It’s an attitude that appears to be paying dividends, with Phil Docherty admitting the chance to play for the Juniors playing a key role in signing six players over the summer. One player who benefits from the policy is Phil’s son Paul, an 18-year old centre half who has already made the move. He has enjoyed his foray into Junior football, but admits it’s quite a significant step-up.
“It’s a lot more challenging," he said. "At the Juniors you’re playing against big 30-year old guys and it’s a lot more physical. It’s far better and it challenges you a lot more and makes you a better player.
"One week you can be playing against a wee fast nippy boy and the next week it’s the big muscly bruiser that tries to knock you about, so trying to deal with it is challenging. When you switch back into the 21s you feel a lot more at ease and a lot more comfortable.”
Leaving the comfort zone is vital for the players' development though and that’s why Docherty Snr is happy for his players to take the opportunity - although he says he will fight to keep them in his side for cup games in a bid to bring home some silverware.
“The league we’re in is the third tier so I’m not that bothered about it as such. If we progress then fine, but it’s more about the development of the boys. There’s more prestige in the cups at this stage so we’ve agreed that if the senior team want any of the boys they’ve got first call on them but this year with the likes of the Scottish Cup and the other cups, we want the 21s to put out their strongest team.”
An earlier than expected start put Ashfield on the back foot this season and Phil Docherty says they are just beginning to find their feet. After a return to winning ways last weekend they travel to Greenock to play Hamilton Inverclyde, but their open door policy to the juniors has cost them their goalkeeper. “The Juniors' goalie broke his hand last week and they didn’t have anyone on the bench so he had to play on. They don’t want it happening again so this week they’ve asked to take our goalie so we’ll need to play with our second goalie.”
They might also be without Docherty Jr, who is waiting to hear if he will be called up to the Juniors; although he says “their manager kind of hinted at it”. If so, his father will need to pull some extra quality out of the reserves once more.