2019 saw success for both Waterford IT and Waterford FC under-19s at national level. In the spring, the college side won the CFAI Cup for the first time in twenty years with victory over TU Blanchardstown – while Gary Hunt’s under-19s defeated Galway Utd in the league final in October.
While silverware at youth level is not considered the primary objective at either club or college level- progression to senior teams and academic development taking these respective honours – it’s a testament to the skill and endeavour of those involved that they can operate at an elite level on the national stage.
Looking at the CFAI Cup winning side, there were a number of players who also plied their trade with Waterford FC sides- the likes of goalkeeper Paul Martin and attacker Adham Masood are examples. Similarly, in the 2019 Waterford FC under-19 side, Darryl Walsh (now of Cobh Ramblers) studies at Waterford IT.
Seán Geoghegan is the current Waterford FC under-15 manager and also doubles up as WIT Sport Development Officer and coach of the WIT Vikings 1st team.
In an exclusive interview with extratime.ie he spoke about a range of topics including; programmes of study available at WIT, the WIT scholarship schemes and the links between the college and club.
Whilst some are participating in degree programmes such as Accounting, Business, Economics and Electrical Engineering, the most popular courses for students involved in sport are the BSc in Sports Coaching and Performance (of which one year is an internship in an Academy, possibly Hibernians FC or Swindon Town- both of whom have links with WIT) or a B. Bus in Recreation and Sports Management which includes both Business Management and Recreational Studies.
Scholarships available at the college are split into three tiers – Elite (€2,000 bursary plus a range of supports including access to a psychologist, gym membership, one on one coaching, gym classes, doctor), Sports Scholarship (€500-1000 plus access to all the perks mentioned above) and the Emerging Talent (no bursary but access to all the supports).
Bausch and Lomb also provide a scholarship bursary worth €1500 which it is intended to split across three different students (the aforementioned Adham Masood has been on this programme). Previously, a scholarship scheme existed between the college and Waterford FC, of which Paul and John Martin, Matt Connor, Darryl Walsh and Jack Larkin were recipients.
Geoghegan spoke of his hope to see the return of that scholarship scheme soon and how Waterford IT were working on improving the elite nature of the schemes they provide by placing a greater accountability on recipients as well as reducing the number of recipients. At the moment there are 10,000 students of which 70 are on scholarship programmes.
“We’ve 12 boys on scholarships. A good chunk of the Waterford FC under-19s are on the Emerging Talent programme while Darryl Walsh, Jack Larkin and Paul Martin are on the Sports scholarship.
“The likes of Mark O Keefe, Adham Masood (both Waterford Hibs) and Sam Hickey (Evergreen) are on the Bausch and Lomb scholarship.
“They’ve all had offers from League of Ireland clubs but have chosen not to play. They’re at the standard where they’ve been very good for the college, Mark O’Keefe scored nine goals on the way to the Cup Final last year.
“There’s also the opportunity to improve the standard of scholarship regardless of the standard they’re playing at if they’re playing at the elite level for the college.”
Off the field, performing academically is also important with bursary removed and extra grinds put in place for those who fail two exams. Geoghegan spoke about how students who receive scholarships are expected to attend events promoting the college as part of their bursary, as well as a presence at training and matches for their chosen sport.
Further details on how Waterford IT and Waterford FC were examined and how both sides accommodate current scholars including Regix Madika and Jack Larkin.
Movement of training times and a flexibility from lecturers were mentioned as well as how the college are encouraging of young talented players who move to the area to continue their League of Ireland development with Waterford FC's Academy – Paul Omotosho’s move from Bohs under-17s to Waterford FC shortly after enrolling in WIT is a recent example.
Geoghegan's hopes for the future included further strengthening of the links between the WIT and Waterford FC with regards to the player pathway, increase awareness amongst both students and parents as to the advantages of staying in the League of Ireland, preparing for the future and playing Third Level Football as well as helping to transition into League of Ireland clubs.
He also spoke as to the quality of the resources available to players playing Third Level Football- pre matches meals, excellent facilities, playing against some of the best players in the country regularly.
With a recent rebranding, now known as WIT Vikings, and continuing development on and off the field- the CFAI Cup could be retained this year with two more wins.
They play their semi-final tomorrow (18th) with a chance also of league silverware as they have a League Semi Final next Tuesday (25th) with IT Sligo the opponents on both occasions.
WIT is an institution which is hoping to compete with the more traditional colleges, such as IT Carlow, NUI Maynooth and UCD, when it comes to recruiting and development of young footballers.
Their Elite Scholarship student Phil Healy is currently blazing a trail at the elite level, lighting the path for others to follow.
For more information on Waterford IT see www.wit.ie.