Academy director David Longwell has expressed his pride after Shrewsbury’s under-15s reached the final of the Floodlit Cup.
It’s been an outstanding season for Town’s under-15s who overcame Derby, Sunderland, Birmingham, Plymouth and Mansfield to lift the Rams Cup earlier this month.
That success was achieved despite both Derby and Sunderland having category one academies while Birmingham are category two.
And Town's youngsters have continued to topple sides with greater resources by now making it to the final of the national Floodlit Cup.
It means we will take on Premier League Bournemouth at Montgomery Waters Meadow on Friday, May 5, with the game kicking off at 6pm.
And David has urged all Shrewsbury fans to come down to the stadium and support the lads – and get a first glimpse of some Town stars of the future.
“To reach the final of the Floodlit Cup is massive for a club of Shrewsbury’s size,” said David who is first team coach under manager Steve Cotterill as well as academy director.
“So much hard work has gone on over the past four years to reach this point, particularly by Gary Wharton who is our head of recruitment.
“He has worked tirelessly to bring players in and improve the quality.
“There is a long-term plan at this club and the under-15s epitomise what we are doing.
"It takes time to develop players and when Brian Caldwell (CEO) convinced me to come to Shrewsbury we always wanted to do things right for the long term of the club.
“For them to go and play against - and beat - higher category teams is testament to the work Gary and his staff have done.
"The under-15s have come up against Manchester United, Wolves, West Brom and Aston Villa to name just a few.
"They are all big clubs but we have competed extremely well.
“Those teams have got much better resources – that's not making excuses, that’s just a fact. It’s the nature of it.
"Big clubs in the Premier League and the Championship have got larger budgets and more resources to work with – and a lot more staff.
“However, I've always believed it’s not about the amount of people you have – it's about how hard you work.
“That is the fundamental with our under-15s and I think they epitomise the academy in general. We have to punch above our weight, but we are doing it.”
As well as winning the Rams Cup, the current Town under-15s side won the Oakham Cup last season – when they were under-14s.
And David is delighted with the progress they are making.
“The under-15s have progressed so well,” he continued.
“In the Rams Cup, they won that despite coming up against teams like Derby and Sunderland.
“They are performing consistently and when I first came here I don’t think that was happening.
"But that is across the academy, across the academy we are very strong and we have improved a lot since I joined.
"That is because a lot of hard work has gone into the past four years and so many good staff helped us to reach this point.
“A lot of hard work has gone in to identify talent. But the talent has then got to fit the style of play.
“And we have got a very definitive style of play which is all about long-term development.
“We’ve got players who want to win games and players who have high potential.
“The downside to that is we get lots of big clubs coming to watch us on a regular basis. But that is just testament to the work that’s been done.
“It’s lovely though to be able to sit here and say we’ve got a group with some really high potential players who we feel will be in the first team in the future.”
David believes there are three key reasons why the under-15s have had such a successful campaign so far.
“First of all it’s the recruitment,” he continued.
“Gary has done an incredible job. We work very closely together – we just have a very similar understanding of what we think talent looks like.
“It’s hard to recruit talent because you have to convince them to come to the club.
“Now, because we have got such a good reputation, more players are wanting to come.
"The second part is the coaching. We have got a syllabus and a curriculum we believe in that I put in when I first came here.
"Charlie Musselwhite (academy manager) and Liam Eaton (head of academy coaching) are doing a great job ensuring the coaches and players are coaching and playing our way.
"It's all about long term development and getting players into the first-team like Tom Bloxham.
“We then needed the coaches to buy into that which I think they do.
“And the third part is the kids themselves. The kids have got to work hard and take things on board.
“You have to bring the parents into that as well because the parents do a lot of work bringing them in, taking them home.
“It's a big, big, commitment. But I think the parents can see the development in their son.
“And the examples are clear because they are getting to finals, they are winning cups."
The final of the Floodlit Cup will be open to supporters with tickets costing £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.
And David hopes as many Town fans as possible will come out and support the under-15s.
“It would be fantastic if we could get a really big crowd in the stadium and they could roar on these lads because they really deserve it,” he added.
“I’m hoping some of the first team players will come down because they have been great with the academy lads this year.
“We’ve had the likes of Penno (Matthew Pennington), Chey (Dunkley), (Ryan (Bowman), Winni (Carl Winchester), Harry (Burgoyne) and Benno (Elliott Bennett) all come down and take coaching sessions as part of their UEFA B Licence.
“They have got a real affinity with the academy now and I’d love the fans to have that too.
“To get Town fans here supporting the boys would be great.
"It's so important for a club like Shrewsbury to have an academy.
"And with the quality and talent we now have, it will no doubt benefit the first team in the years to come.
"It's good the club have backed the academy as it's proving to be very successful.
“Now our under-15s have got another cup final. To play a team like Bournemouth, they are definitely going to be favourites, but our boys will give everything.
"And with that support behind they have got every chance of winning another cup this year."