Youth team defender Conor Fowler’s time at Chesterfield may still be in its infancy, but it may not have even happened at all, but for a former junior manager in his native Ireland.
Fowler was a talented Gaelic footballer and had represented Dublin in the process, meaning that he didn’t take up football properly until he was 14.
And while he admits that the decision to give up his first love was a tough one, it looks to have been the right decision.
“I tried football when I was eight/nine, I left Gaelic for two months, but I didn’t like it, so I went back,” he recalled.
“It was actually a bit of a fluke how I got back into football, my mate needed a hand so I went and played for his team, I scored and the manager wouldn’t leave my door until I signed!
“I started at Belvedere before going on to St Patrick’s, playing in the Airtricity League of Ireland until I was 17 and then I moved over here.”
It was through playing for St Patrick’s that Fowler’s move to the Spireites came about, catching the eye of academy coach, Darren Molloy in a match where he played alongside team mate and close friend Dylan Hand.
Now in his second and final year of his scholarship, the Irishman has sights on extending his stay at the Proact by following in the footsteps of graduates such as Laurence Maguire, Joe Rowley and Charlie Wakefield in earning a professional contract with the club.
A task which he acknowledges will not be easy.
Fowler said: “I would be delighted if I got one, it would be nice to say that all of the hard work has paid off, even though it would only be the start of something.
“The manager (Gary Caldwell) doesn’t mind how old you are, if you’re good enough he’ll play you, we’ve seen that with Charlie and Joe and for us to see that is really big, he has good faith in the youth system which is great!
“I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but if I were to get one I’d be very happy, it’d be the first hurdle of what hopefully will be a long career.”
His performances in friendlies for both the first and youth team’s over the summer are certainly doing his chances no harm at all – as are the number of goals he’s scored during that time as anyone who witnessed the friendly at Handsworth Parramore will testify.
As well as clocking up minutes and appearances, the time with the first team has proven to be a useful exercise in learning from experienced players and Caldwell.
On his experiences with the first team squad, Fowler said: “It’s been great, I’ve got to see exactly what the manager wants, even when I’m sitting on the bench and listening to what he’s saying to his assistant and the players playing in my position.
“It’s a good learning curve and I’m trying to take in as much as I can and apply it into my own games and training sessions for when he comes to watch.
“There was one thing I saw in the game against Stoke City U23s, one of our centre halves was getting pinned and he turned around to me and told me that if that was me, I’d need to drop off and then come in front of him to nick the ball, that was something I put to good use in the Scunthorpe United game last week.”
Fowler now has his sights set on helping the Youth Team get back on track, when they take on Tranmere Rovers at Clay Cross on Saturday, 11am, in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup.
The game represents a break from league action for the Spireites, who’ve had a decent start to the new season, with a draw, win and a loss from their opening three games.
And despite suffering a 3-2 defeat at Scunthorpe last time out, Fowler says that confidence among the group is still high.
“We had a good pre-season and we’re gelling together well as a group,” the defender said.
“The result against Mansfield wasn’t a bad result (1-1) considering what they’ve been like over the last two years and taking that into the Lincoln game and getting the 1-0 win was good.
“We let ourselves down last week but we looking to bounce back against Tranmere this Saturday.
“I think we have to go into it focusing on ourselves, with the squad and quality that we have now, if we play at 100% we can beat anybody.”
The match with the Merseyside club will also mark the first in charge for Miguel Llera, who earlier this week took on the role for the academy’s professional development phase lead coach.
Llera has overseen training this week and Fowler says that the Spaniard is already making a favourable impression with the squad on the training pitch.
“Training’s been really good,” Fowler added. “It’s different to what we had before, he’s really intense and everything has to be done to a high standard.
“He’s been bringing a more Spanish-type game to training, he loves his passing drills and they’re more technical than what we’re used to.
“Everyone can see that there’s only one way we’re going with him and that’s up.”