Martin O’Connor’s youngsters could be stars of the future for Walsall
A leading football academy, run by Walsall favourite Martin O’Connor, is on the hunt for new talent – and it may benefit the Saddlers.
The Martin O’Connor Education & Football Academy (MOCEFA), was launched in 2015 and runs in partnership with Chasetown FC.
Based at Norton Canes High School, the academy aims to develop players for the Scholars’ first-team, while also providing them with the qualifications needed to have successful careers in sport and business.
Run similar to youth set-ups at professional clubs, players train in the morning before heading into the classroom in the afternoon.
And over the past 12 months, O’Connor and his team have enjoyed countless success stories both on and off the pitch.
While some players have gone on to appear for Chasetown’s first-team, O’Connor has also lined up trials at Walsall for his brightest talents.
He has also helped a number of players gain the qualifications needed to go on and study at university.
“The academy is flying and now we are looking for our next intake of players to develop both on and off the pitch,” O’Connor said. “On the football side of things we are enjoying a fantastic year.
“We are top of our league. We are in the semi-finals of a national cup competition. And we are going all out for a league and cup double.
“But it’s the development of the lads that’s the most important thing. We have had players appear for Chasetown’s first-team. They are being paid to play.
“I’ve got some guys who I’m keen to get on trial with Walsall – hopefully that will happen soon.
“But educationally we have also made big strides forward.”
O’Connor’s academy runs a number of BTEC qualifications aimed at helping youngsters land a job in either sport or business.
There is also the opportunity for members to resit their maths and English GCSEs.
This year, O’Connor has also run a scheme to help his players obtain The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
And the 51-year-old admits it gives him great pride to see members of his academy going on to be successful after they leave.
“We are a football academy, but it’s not about football,” O’Connor continued. “It’s education that drives us. Yes, we want to improve them as footballers. Yes, we want them to be driven.
“But the aim is to give these lads a pathway. We want them to be able to go out and get a job in the sporting industry – which is where they want to be.
“Now a lot of our former players are at university.
“We had one guy who was excluded from three senior schools.
“Now he is studying to be a PE teacher at Wolverhampton University.
“We had another guy join us without his maths and English GCSE. Now he is at university.
“We are having an impact on these youngsters.”
O’Connor enjoyed a successful playing career that saw him lead Walsall to promotion into the old Division Two in 1995.
He was also part of the Birmingham City side that contested the 2001 League Cup final with Liverpool.
And he is now looking for the next in-take for his academy – which will begin in the summer.
“In many ways, what we are doing is similar to the scholarships they run at universities in America,” he added. “We have to provide patience and understanding, but if you respect these guys, then they show you respect back.
“We are going to hold trial days in the Easter half-term and if anyone is interested in coming along we’d love to hear from them.
“We will put on some training sessions. People can come along and see how we train as well as what we offer on the educational side of things.
“Even if you’re not the most talented footballer you will still be welcome if you show the right attitude. We are inclusive rather than exclusive.”
Any young players interested in joining O’Connor’s academy can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org