Mansfield Town have tied up professional contracts for three apprentices who made significant contributions to their EFL Youth Alliance North East title-winning campaign.
Harry Bircumshaw, Nyle Blake and Aiden Walker have all penned their first pro deals and will now progress into the club’s Under-21 squad.
Bircumshaw was named in LFE’s ‘The 11’ in February after impressing on and off the pitch, achieving D*D*D* grades and studying for an additional A-level, as well as establishing himself as a key member of the successful Stags Under-18 team.
Striker Blake netted the goal that sealed their North East crown, scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Bradford City in April.
Meanwhile, Walker was a rock in the heart of a defence that conceded just 16 goals in 24 league games, while he also added several goals at the other end from set-pieces.
Academy manager John Dempster told the club website: “The progress of the academy has come a long way over the past few years. We now have a situation where the Under-18 side directly feeds the Under-21 side.
“We pick the boys who we believe have a real chance of making it in the game, and now I believe we have an elite group (at Under-21 level) who can stand up at against any level in the country, whether that be Under-21 or Under-23.
“Under the old regime, we had a very frustrating 18 months. Very few players went up to the first-team, which had an effect on motivation and focus. I have to give the academy staff huge credit for maintaining the motivation and focus of the players during this time.
“Since the change (of first-team manager), there has definitely been more interaction between first-team and academy, which is superb. The younger players have felt really welcome, and feel that they have a real chance of making it to the first-team now.”
Dempster highlighted the qualities of each of the players.
He said: “Aiden Walker has been superb at centre-half throughout the season, he’s formed a brilliant partnership with Lewis Gibbens. He’s developed plenty in the second year of his time with the team. He’s reacted to the challenges he’s faced really well. Aiden is comfortable defending in a back-four or on the right in a back-three, and can defend well in wide areas.
“Bircumshaw has probably been the most consistent performer in our Under-18 side. Harry is technically gifted, really good on the ball and a tenacious player. He has two sides to his game and has answered all the questions we have asked of him this year.
“Nyle Blake started in the Under-18s as an Under-16, so we always knew he had great potential. His ability to score and set up goals is one thing, but his raw attributes and fitness levels have really impressed. He can play at centre-forward but also anywhere on the right, including right wing-back – he has the attributes to do so.”
Elsewhere, another member of the academy group, Iyrwah Gooden, has also signed a professional contract.
Dempster added: “Iyrwah (Gooden) is one with a late birthday, so has only been in the side for a year. We felt like we needed to secure him as Premier League and Championship teams were sniffing around because of his technical ability and ability to score goals from nothing.”