It may not have resulted in silverware but the last week underlined why Liverpool’s Academy have every reason to be proud of their efforts over the campaign.
Given preparing youngsters for first-team football is the overriding aim, the sight of Conor Bradley trotting on for his international debut for Northern Ireland in their friendly win over Malta on Sunday was justification the work at Kirkby is coming to fruition.
“It was unreal,” said Bradley, who was introduced in the 85th minute by Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough. “When the gaffer came over to me and said ‘you’re getting on’, I had goosebumps. It was an unbelievable moment.
“I’m just trying to get back to the next training camps and keep trying to impress the manager and hopefully he keeps picking me.”
Bradley has been one of the undoubted success stories of the Liverpool Academy season and proof of the great strides that can be made should a youngster grasp his opportunity.
The 17-year-old right-back, who arrived at the Reds in 2019 from Dungannon United in his homeland, was fast-tracked to the U23s this season and featured in more than half of their games in Premier League 2.
And his age meant he remained eligible to feature in the FA Youth Cup, and played in the 2-1 final defeat at Aston Villa six days before his international bow.
Tyler Morton, another youngster whose progress has captured the attention, also stepped up to the U23s during the course of the season while featuring in the FA Youth Cup, the 18-year-old midfielder contributing 10 goals and seven assists in 25 games across all competitions.
Young U23s find it tough
It was a testing season for U23s coach Barry Lewtas in his first full season in the role, having to cope with perennial issues of players leaving on loan and moving up and down the age groups.
The Reds finished seventh out of 13 teams, although only three points behind third-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Defensive solidity was a constant concern despite the consistent performances of Bradley and, in the left-back role, 18-year-old Owen Beck.
After a strong start with five wins from the first seven – including triumphs over Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and a 5-3 thriller at Manchester United – a run of six games without a victory hampered progress, not helped by shipping seven goals at home to runaway champions Manchester City, four to Tottenham and six in the return against United.
There were issues up front with Paul Glatzel and Joe Hardy in and out the side through injury, while 18-year-old Layton Stewart’s breakthrough into the U23s was halted by serious knee injury in March.
Stewart had netted 17 goals in 18 games at Academy level up to that point, including 15 in 10 outings for the U18s.
“The league was competitive and obviously I have to say there were certain games I was disappointed in, like the home games against Manchester City and Manchester United, in certain moments of those games,” says Lewtas.