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Player's View: 'My Journey Through The Academy'

Youth teamer Dylan Moonan tells his personal story of progressing through the Clarets' ranks

20 April 2020

Teenage midfielder Dylan Moonan is nearing the end of his first year as a ‘scholar’ in the Clarets’ Academy.

Moonan has therefore been a full-time footballer with Burnley – combined with his in-house academic studies – for approaching 12 months.

The central midfielder has been a regular in the Clarets’ U18 side this season and helped Tony Philliskirk’s side reach the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup, scoring in both the fourth and fifth-rounds wins over Mansfield Town and West Bromwich Albion.

But this is only the latest step on the journey for the 17-year-old as he aims to make it into the professional ranks at Turf Moor.

Wigan-born Moonan has been on the books at Burnley since 2011 and in a series of first-hand articles penned during the current lockdown, the youngster details how he has made this far and where he currently stands in a fledgling career.

How I was scouted for Burnley… by Dylan Moonan

I was a typical Wiganer playing football and rugby non-stop every day in the street, garden and anywhere I could. I was just like any other kid having the dream of being a footballer.

At six-years-old, one of my good mates Robbie Heaton, who played for top clubs at the time such as Manchester United, invited me to a club called Cherrybrook. It was a Wigan club set up by a local dad called Mike Cotter and is a hugely successful club now.

Moonan dressing room.jpg

I used to be a winger for Cherrybrook in my Sunday Skelmersdale league team, which was managed by Peter Grey and Collin Grey, and found myself one of the top goalscorers in the league. The manager and referee used to reward a medal to the MOTM; I was proud to be the recipient on many occasions.

On a Saturday, I would play for a different Cherrybrook team (managed by Lee Dainty) and I was playing as a defender with my current Burnley U18 team-mate Ben Woods. This was a top team for such a young age as we were pretty much unbeaten in leagues like Wigan, Warrington and Bolton & Bury, which saw us all get scouted by different academies.

Luckily enough for me, ex-Burnley scout Andie Cawood spotted me in a tournament and invited me to take trials at Burnley’s Gawthorpe training ground.

At the age of seven, I was travelling up to Gawthorpe which felt a million miles away - one of the challenges I had to overcome - and simultaneously training for Wigan Athletic a few nights a week.

At first, I didn’t know what to expect as it was my first time at a training ground with a professional football club. It was then that I learnt the importance of punctuality, appearance and attitude, since it differs so much to grassroots football.

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At that age I felt much more comfortable playing with mates at Wigan as you would expect. However, we as a family made the tough decision to pursue a contract at Burnley. I struggled to show my talent throughout the U8 season and didn’t settle in very well at all. At the end of the season, playing Leeds away, I was told they would make a decision on my future with the club.

In this game, there was a lot of pressure on me and it forced me into a bad performance. I thought too much about it because I wanted to be an official academy footballer so much and I thought I had ruined my chances.

Fortunately, I was given one last chance at Aston Villa away to prove myself as a player. This was the final chance I had to showcase what I could do.

I had a blinding game playing right wing and was rewarded with being told I was offered a contract. After the frustrating season, my mum and dad had the relief of finally seeing me playing to my ability in a Claret shirt – they always believed in me.

On the 16 April, 2011 I was given a great opportunity by Andie Cawood, who had arranged for me and my family to have a meal at Turf Moor, sign my first contract and meet players like Jay Rodriguez and get autographs.

Moonan Thompson pressure.jpg

I remember it being a lovely summer’s day and us beating Swansea 2-1. It was also the day that Graham Alexander made his 1000th professional appearances – what an achievement, only one other outfield player in English football has matched this.

Hopefully one day I can achieve something as successful as this. That signing day is one of the highlights of my last 10 years with Burnley Football Club.

After my signing day I really started to enjoy my football and my confidence started to grow despite the typical cold Burnley weather and the long late nights, training with lads from all different areas.

For the majority of the next season I trained in the ETC at Turf Moor, which was the only indoor facility at the time, and Gawthorpe, which had a 3G outdoor AstroTurf pitch and portacabins for me to change in.

I built up good bonds with coaches and team-mates throughout the season and it was coming to the time of renewing contracts. Although I was apprehensive, I was confident that me and all my mates would stay. Coming as a huge shock, I had found out that one of my closest mates had been released.

That’s when I learnt of the harsh nature of academy football and how quick people could come and go. It’s a hard thing to take when you are young and it’s easy to forget that this is another barrier that you must overcome to keep yourself moving in the right direction.

Alongside playing for Burnley, I enjoyed representing my school team and I always really looked forward to these games because it was a chance to play with my mates again, less pressure and there was a trophy to be won.

For the rest of my primary school days I played in a claret shirt all over the north-west every weekend, which ruined my mum and dad’s social life and cost them in time and money! I was fast approaching high school and was ready for the next phase.

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