Blessed Trinity coach James MacMahon has backed his English Schools’ Cup winning squad to follow in the footsteps of former pupils Jimmy Anderson, Jonathan Clare, Chris Casper and Oliver Norwood.
The talented teenagers made history when becoming the first team from Burnley to be crowned English champions after beating Bristol-based Winterbourne International Academy 5-0 in the final of the nationwide competition at Derby County’s Pride Park.
The Year 10 side, who had lifted the Keighley Cup at Turf Moor just days before, were the first team from the town to reach the final in 20 years, but they went one better thanks to Willem Tomlinson’s brace and further strikes from Lewis Mansell, Liam Hall and Jordan Swift.
“It was massive,” beamed MacMahon. “I keep using the word ‘overwhelmed’ to describe the feeling. In terms of prestige it’s an incredible achievement. The commitment and dedication from everyone has helped us to achieve our goals.
“We’d like to go on and retain our crown next year. It will be tough and there’ll be a lot of weight on our shoulders because we’ll be the team that everyone wants to beat. But I think it will be hard for anyone to beat us.”
MacMahon, a former St Theodore’s RC student himself prior to the school’s amalgamation, claimed to have recognised a spark in the squad when taking over the reins three years ago. However, despite also winning the Lancashire Cup on two occasions, he finds it remarkable that only two players are on the books at professional clubs - captain Tomlinson and Mansell, who are both training at Brockhall at the Blackburn Rovers Academy.
“Both players are very good,” said MacMahon. “Willem is the best player Blessed Trinity has ever produced and probably one of the best talents to be unearthed from the days of St Theodore’s. He will definitely go on to bigger things. He’s got a bright future ahead.
“It would be great for the school to produce another sporting talent like the ones that have been bred in the past. They’ve both got that foundation to go on and achieve their dreams now. But I’m trying my best to get the other lads involved with clubs at a higher level.
“We’ve got another 12 months together so hopefully some will get looked at on the back of the recognition they’ll get from winning the English Schools’ Cup. They’ve won a big tournament so they can’t be ignored. They’ve got talent that needs to be captured by local clubs.
“Four or five of the lads are good enough to go on and play at a good professional standard. Quite a few of them have been in and out of academies but never stuck for one reason or another. They are certainly worth a gamble though because they out-performed some of the best youngsters in the country at school level.”
MacMahon also runs a separate venture - Elite Mark Academy - which is based at the Spirit of Sport. Although the academy is in no way linked to the school, around 12 players from his squad of 18 are attending in hope of getting recognition. Scouts are invited down to the centre to monitor the youngsters, gauge their ability levels, and assess whether they are worthy of trials at their respective clubs.
MacMahon said: “Burnley and East Lancashire has a hub of talent with dreams of playing professional football. Some of these kids who are right on the doorstep of clubs are being ignored and preference is for those who have been released by bigger clubs. If some of these lads had been at clubs from the age of 11 they would be exceptional talents now.
“Willem wasn’t one of the better players in the team when we started out but he’s progressed incredibly since being taken on and developed by top coaches. I’m trying to give these lads the chance.”