Ipswich Town have not given up on their bold target of 50% youth team graduates in the first team squad

Ipswich Town academy manager Lee O'Neill

Ipswich Town academy manager Lee O'Neill - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Town academy manager Lee O’Neill admits the stated aim of having half of the first-team squad made up of homegrown players by 2017 was always ‘bold’, but makes no apologies for the club setting their ambitions high.

The Blues set that target when launching an academy fund-raising drive in 2013 and, with that self-imposed deadline fast approaching, just six out of 26 of McCarthy’s regular first-team squad – Tommy Smith, Luke Hyam, Teddy Bishop, Josh Emmanuel, Myles Kenlock and Andre Dozzell – have come off the Playford Road production line.

During his four years in charge, McCarthy has handed eight youth team players their first-team debuts. Three of them – Jack Marriott, Matt Clarke, and Darren McQueen – have already moved on. Take Bishop out of the equation and the other seven have 18 starts and 12 substitute appearances for the Blues between them.

A number of players from Under-15 to Under-18 level are being called upon by their countries though, with the likes of Ben Morris, James Blanchfield and Kundai Benyu all on the fringes of the first team at present.

“You always have to set your targets high – when myself and Bryan (Klug) sat down to discuss that target, we wanted to set high standards,” said O’Neill, who was promoted to the role of academy manager recently to allow the experienced Klug chance to leave his office and return on the training field as ‘head of coaching and player development’.

“I think the number of academy products involved in the first team squad is approximately 40% at the moment, with around 30% having been involved in the actual first team at some point. We’re still building up to that target of 50%, but the figure might be around the 40% mark over the next two to three years.

“It was a bold target, we obviously know that, but we wanted to challenge ourselves.”

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Blues boss Mick McCarthy said: “I’m not sure everybody accepts how tough this league is to play in. It is a very, very tough league and you’ve got to be robust and durable. I think we are getting to the point where we are getting a few more players coming through who can play and sustain it, rather than have a game and not see them again.

“It would be lovely if we could get those homegrown players coming through. I don’t keep them out the team because I don’t want them to play. I pick the best players available to me.”

– See today’s EADT and Ipswich Star for O’Neill’s thoughts on why the Blues are sticking with Category Two academy status or now.

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