Eagles under-18 manager Paddy McCarthy believes that a rigorous pre-season should ensure that his side can hit the ground running as they eye U18 Professional Development League success this term.
The former Palace centre-back first full season in charge of the academy side kicks off on Saturday at Sheffield Wednesday, and he has been relishing preparing his squad for the challenges that lie ahead with a tough summer schedule.
“This is my first pre-season as a coach, but I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “It’s been a learning curve working with the more experienced coaches around me, but things have gone well.
“We played a couple of games against local academy sides and won quite comfortably, and then we went to Northern Ireland and faced Linfield and Glenavon against older, more physical players where we drew one and lost one. Then we played West Ham who have a Category 1 academy and got a draw, and faced Rosenborg where we lost 2-1, so the lads have been exposed to a number of different types of opposition and stood up well to most of the tests.
“We’ve managed to get through the summer in decent physical shape with no muscle injuries, so hats off to the strength and conditioning guys and the physio department who have been making sure we’ve put the right loads into the lads.
“We’ve pushed them as hard as we can physically and mentally without breaking them and they’ve knocked down a lot of barriers this summer, which can only stand them in good stead during a year that will really test them.”
An encouraging second half the season following McCarthy’s promotion from the under-16 side saw the Eagles rise to a third-place finish in the league last season, but the Irishman is eyeing further improvement this campaign.
“As one of the bigger clubs in the Category 2 fixture list, we want to win as many games as we can playing the right type of football,” McCarthy added. “Our target is to be right up there at the top of the league at the end of the season, whilst getting as many players across to the under-23 squad and within eyesight of the first-team manager.
“The lads had a talk from Frank de Boer too and it was refreshing because he spoke about a lot about the things that we’ve already been demanding from them– respect, discipline and resilience. He’s looking to implement a different kind of playing style which will filter down to ourselves - it won’t happen overnight because our lads have been used to playing a different style, but they’ve taken the information on board and we’re looking to drive forward with it.”