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Stephen Henderson Interview by Dylan O’Connell

Shelbourne’s Head of Youth Development, Stephen Henderson, is a familiar man in League of Ireland football.

The UEFA PRO-LICENCE holder, who coached Cobh Ramblers to their first ever senior national cup final in the 2018 EA Sports Cup and Waterford to the semi finals of the 2009 FAI Cup, is now in charge of implementing the Youth Development Program at the Reds.

His work sees him putting structures in place for children as young as eight years old as the club look to build the Shelbourne team of tomorrow.

Stephen: “Working with the academy is a completely different challenge to what I’m used too but I am enjoying it,” he told Pro-Scout 3.

Stephen: “The academy had a lot of things loose with when I first went in. We wanted to stabilise the academy so we put a plan in place. We recruited coaches for the academy and went from there. We are now slowly starting to reap the rewards of the work we put in.”

Stephen: “Our coaches have really bought into the academy and the long term vision. We have a curriculum for every age group. Our 8-11s are the Centre of Development and they work on technical skills and movement. With the Centre of Excellence we move onto 11 a side games where they use the skills in a team environment. Our League of Ireland teams then are the Centre of High Importance.”

Stephen: “We wanted to bring elements of professionalism into the academy. We have a curriculum now for every age group. Out in the AUL where we train, we have a full gym, a full-time physio, and a club shop.”

Stephen: “With Shelbourne, it’s not just about the first team, that is the headline act, we are building the club from the ground up.”

Fifteen years on from the club’s run to the play-off round of the UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, which plunged the club into debts of €4.4 million and threats of extinction, Shelbourne has been rebuilt after clearing their debts and attracting new investment.

Stephen: “Lessons have been learned at the club,” Henderson explained, “When Andrew Doyle, Dave Henderson, and Dave O’Connor went in, Shels were paying off huge debts. Club chairman Joe Casey had a strict eye on the finances and made sure the club never overspent. The debts have been paid off by being as prudent as possible. The corner stone of the new Shels team is spend what you have not what you don’t have. The club hasn’t taken chances. Lessons have been learned.”

Stephen: “From the senior team right down to the u8s, everything has been run really professional and worked within a budget. We don’t overspend. The club has never been healthier and our academy is thriving. All of this has been laid in the financial foundations laid by Joe Casey.”

Henderson’s own COACHING pathway has been hard fought with his successes including the 2007 League of Ireland First Division title and the 2016 Munster Senior Cup.

Stephen: “It was around 1997 when I started on the COACHING ladder. I was playing with Ards in Northern Ireland and I did the course for the experience. COACHING was something that never overly interested me, but learning from Tom O’Connor really spurred me on. I later went on and did my A License in 2011 and my PRO-LICENCE in 2015.”

Stephen: “With my philosophy, there was always a foundation on how I wanted the game to be played, but if I didn’t have the players, I would be flexible with it. I would keep the basics of that philosophy but apart from that I would adapt to suit the players needs.”

Stephen: “COACHING in Ireland has always been a challenge. We don’t have the facilities and infrastructure for it. We can study all we want, but you need the infrastructure to really implement your philosophy.”

Stephen: “If you have a full time professional team in Ireland you can make it work. If you don’t and don’t have the team to make it work, you have to adapt to the players and the time you have on the playing pitch.”

Stephen: “I’m lucky to have played under some fantastic coaches. When I was at Ards in the Irish League I was very lucky to have worked under Roy Coyle, who is one of the most successful managers in the history of Northern Irish club football. If you have ever seen him on television he always looked angry. When I worked for him at Ards I saw a completely different side of him and I got to see how he worked with his players. The perception I had of him when I went to the club was not the one I came away with. I learned from him on how to get the best from players. He knew how to do a team talk that hit home. He was always short and precise.”

Stephen: “The content of a COACHING session has to reflect what you need on match day. Rather than putting on a general session that the players will be content with, a session has to be focused and geared towards the game that week.”

Stephen: “COACHING is about giving information to your players. When they cross the white line on match day you want them to carry out the plan from training. You also need them to take responsibility on the pitch. If things aren’t going your way in the game your players will have to take responsibility and be able to adapt.”

Right now, the Dubliner is focusing on working with his young squads through the COVID-19 shutdown on all activities and counting down to when they can get back out on the pitch.

Stephen: “Zoom sessions have been a god send for us. We have been having zoom sessions for all our players. It has been eye opening for us. The players are being so professional. We made the sessions all position specific. We have the senior players teaching the players per position. Some of the questions that have been asked been outstanding.”

Stephen: “We are talking with them on their sleeping patterns and their pre match preparation. It has been very beneficial for the players.”

Stephen: “We have also been doing an icon challenge. We wanted to step away from skills games and speed challenges and we wanted to focus on something different. We did a lot of balance tests and agility tests. They sent all the videos to their managers and they can look at the player as an individual. The manager can look how a player runs, how they turn, are they quick, and how they can control their movement on the pitch.”