Paddy McCarthy has urged his Crystal Palace side to rise to the occasion in tonight’s FA Youth Cup tie against Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park.
More than 5,000 tickets have been sold for the fourth round encounter (7pm kick-off) and former Eagles defender McCarthy, 35, still fondly recalls playing in the competition as a kid.
The Irishman came through the youth ranks at Manchester City.
“It is such a special competition – of course I remember it,” he said. “I can still remember who we played – and the players who scored.
“I was lucky enough to play at the Baseball Ground and Maine Road, two fantastic stadiums which are no longer around.
“But the memories are still embedded. These type of ties are so beneficial in terms of development of players. I’m sure the fans will generate a decent atmosphere and it gives these lads good exposure to proper football.
“There will be a little bit of nerves for both sides and that is natural – it is probably the biggest game of the season so far.
“We are a young team this year. We’ve got some matchwinners in the team who look to impress with their skill, power and pace.
“You can find out a lot about players in this situation. You can see the lads who respond well to it. It’s a high-pressure game, but if you are going to have a career in the game then you will be put in situations like this week in and week out.
“It’s great for us coaches and staff to see how they react to that. Most react really well to the situations they are placed in.”
The Eagles beat non-league Cogenhoe United 2-1 in the previous round. TQ Addy and Pierrick Keutcha netted for the South Londoners. McCarthy says there is no minimum expectation of how far Palace should advanced in the prestigious tournament.
“We just take each game as it comes,” he said. “We had a really good third round tie. We went to a non-league side where the pitch was bobbly and the lights weren’t so good.
“They had a really good crowd in a small, compact arena. It was cold, windy and a bobbly pitch – you had all the elements for an upset. But the boys came through that test.
“Friday night is a different test. It is a better pitch at Selhurst and a different kind of atmosphere – they’ll have more friends and family there.
“We can match Bolton physically and tactically. We have players who can get you off your feet. I hope the lads show up on the night.”
Palace have had the likes of Addy, Brandon Pierrick and Rob Street moving up to work with the U23s.
“We have used U17s and we have even been able to field an U15 this year,” explained McCarthy. “We have had U16 players playing on a regular basis.
“Even some of our U17s have been playing for the U23s. But I still feel the quality we have means we are more than a match for anybody.
“You just want them to do themselves justice. They need to give the best they can and stick to the gameplan, because we’ll need a proper team performance against Bolton.”
McCarthy retired from playing in the summer of 2016. His final eight seasons were on Crystal Palace’s payroll, although injuries majorly limited his involvement after the 2011-12 campaign.
In December 2016 he was appointed U18 coach after Ken Gillard left for Arsenal.
“I had a couple of months off playing and had some holiday with my family when the kids were off,” he said. “Then I went into Palace as assistant U16 coach with Jack Mesure. I was loving doing that for two or three months, then Ken left.
“I applied for that role, along with a lot of other applicants. It was a really difficult process – I had to do a powerpoint presentation and put together a CV, something I’d never really had to do before. It took me out of my comfort-zone, but that’s where you learn most. It’s been a great learning environment for me. We’ve had collective and individual success last year – hopefully there will be a bit more on Friday night.”
McCarthy has done his coaching badges through the Football Association of Ireland. He is about to start his Pro Licence.
“I did my UEFA A while I was still playing,” he said. “I’ve just recently completed the FA Advanced Youth Award, that is my last youth coaching badge.
“That was done over the past two years and is really beneficial to my personal development of coaching young lads. The Pro one is next, which will give me a better understanding of the business side of the game.
“I’m going into every day with an open mind. I’ve got a long way to go but I’m learning it at a club I’m unbelievably fond of and which has a massive place in my heart. It is where I need to be at this stage. There is more hard graft ahead.”
After a career which saw him amass just shy of 300 matches – and being part of the Palace squad which won promotion from the Championship in 2013 – does coaching fill the hole of not playing?
“It’s certainly the next best thing,” said McCarthy. “It’s a fantastic job. I get up every day and go to work at a Premier League club.
“When you see a team that you have worked your socks off preparing click – or an individual you are aiming to make marginal gains with starts to show them – that’s your reward.”
TWO YOUNG EAGLES TO WATCH
Not dissimilar in style to Palace academy graduate Jonny Williams. A diminutive attacking midfielder who is confident at running with the ball at his feet. He is capable of playing anywhere across a three behind the striker.
Signed a professional contract on his 17th birthday and made his U18 debut aged 15. Both England and Portugal have monitored his progress in recent seasons.
Able to playing anywhere across a front three, but for the U18s he primarily spends his time on the right wing – pacey, intelligent on and off the ball and does not shirk his defensive duties. Also a first-year scholar, he has been involved regularly with Richard Shaw’s U23s, although he usually fills in as a makeshift centre-forward at the older age group.
PROFILES BY MATT WOOSNAM