Argyle’s annual trip to Northern Ireland to take part in the SupercupNI of 2023 was a big success, with a young side comprised of under-14 and Under-15 players winning four out of five matches.
Not only that, but a squad of budding footballers also got to taste the experience of tournament football, and all that it entails.
Argyle won all of their group stage games, against Charlton Athletic, County Fermanagh and St Mirren, before drawing with West Ham United but losing a penalty shoot-out. In the final game of a busy week, Argyle beat County Armagh to clinch third place in the competition.
James Bradley, who once took part in the competition as a player, and this time led the group as a coach, said: “It was fantastic. The experience of the players was incredible.
“The great thing about the tournament is that every team you face is different. The first challenge we faced was Charlton, which was on a really small pitch against a really physical test. We had to stand up to that and match that - and the lads did that fantastically.
“We went on to County Fermanagh, a completely different test. We had lots of the possession of the ball, and we had to break them down. We came out of that game two goals up without conceding again.
“On to Wednesday, a game we knew we had to get a result in, so that provided a little bit of a different pressure to what the boys would be used to. We needed a draw or a win to make sure we finished top for the semi-finals, and we came out of there 1-0 winners.
“We won three games out of three and didn't concede a goal. It couldn't have gone much better to be honest with you.”
While winning games, at any level and any age, is always going to be a good thing, James is hoping that the various experiences and scenarios that the players faced in Northern Ireland will be as big as anything on their learning journey.
Against Premier League academy side West Ham, Argyle twice went behind, each time finding an equaliser, the second of which came in the dying moments of the game.
Bradley said: “We did a phenomenal job playing against West Ham, a Category One Academy, coming out 2-2 and then the unfortunate result of the penalties, which, as we all know, can go either way, really.
“Because we hadn't conceded a goal in three games, before we went out I wanted to address it with the players: what would happen if we did concede a goal? Inevitably, that happened against West Ham, and we bounced back so well.
“This isn't just one week. This is a journey from the age of seven, eight, nine years old where we've drummed into them about showing resilience, showing character, having pitch personality.
“They had to show all of that in abundance throughout the game. Going 1-0 down, going 2-1 down, and then scoring with the last kick of the game to take it to penalties was the best moment I've had on the sidelines so far.
“I then had one of the most amazing experiences I've had as a coach, actually.
“I was outside talking to West Ham's coaches, then I walked back into our changing rooms. One of the Under-14 players was standing in front of the rest of the group. delivering an inspirational speech about how they wanted to finish third and how they wanted to finish the tournament strongly, which I thought summed them up as a group.
“They led the week and they got themselves up for every game. That was amazing to see after that disappointment, at such a young age, to be able to bounce back and be so resilient.
“I think it comes at the perfect time in their development. It's the first introduction for the players to go and do that.
“The final message from Phil Stokes and myself as we departed was: ‘well done for the week, but go on, don't just leave it there, take what you've done and bring it back to Plymouth, and bring it back to our games programme moving forwards’.”