'O'Mahony an outstanding professional'

Under-21s boss Shannon Ruth heaps praise on youngster after his Premier League debut.

By Nick Szczepanik • 16 April 2024

By Paul Hazlewood
Mark O'Mahony made his Premier League debut in the 1-1 draw.

Mark O’Mahony’s Premier League debut as a late substitute in Albion’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on Saturday made under-21 head coach Shannon Ruth’s day - even though his top scorer’s instincts in front of goal were badly missed in his team's 3-0 home defeat by Reading that kicked off an hour later.

“It is why we are here as an academy and an under-21 group, so his teammates will be pleased for Mark that he had got the rewards for his hard work,” Ruth said. 

O’Mahony’s big moment came at the end of a week when the 19-year-old Irishman signed a new contract that keeps him at the club until 2027.

“We are delighted for Mark,” Ruth said. “First of all, he is an outstanding professional and human being in how he conducts himself and how hard he works. We feel very lucky to have signed him, from Cork last January.

By Paul Hazlewood
Mark O'Mahony has scored ten goals in Premier League 2 so far this campaign.

“He has developed very quickly, he has embraced the football club and everything that the different departments have thrown at him to try to make him better. I’m sure getting his debut was a great moment for him.

“The head coach has shown incredible belief in the academy players and given them opportunities.” 

Ruth admitted that juggling his team when players are called up by first team head coach Roberto De Zerbi can be testing. Odel Offiah and Cam Peupion were also on the bench at Burnley.

“As an under-21s head coach, you have to become very skilled at adapting, but of course we are constantly thinking about who is next. So when players do go up to the first team, we see that as an opportunity for other players. We don’t see it as the team being weakened, it is a chance for new young players to come through.

By Paul Hazlewood
Cam Peupion and Odel Offiah were on the bench for the first team at Burnley.

“Hopefully our conveyor belt keeps talented young players coming through to be challenged in the right way at the right level. Against Reading I was able to shuffle the pack and put out a team that was slightly different from the one that faced Manchester United six days ago.”

For some players, movement up and down the levels can be extreme. Benicio Baker-Boaitey, for example, has come off the first-team bench at a packed Stamford Bridge and a sold-out Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this season. On Saturday he was a second-half substitute at a windy American Express Elite Football Performance Centre in front of a crowd in three figures.

“Yes, returning to us can be like coming back to earth after a really big high,” Ruth said. “But we are very lucky in that having the under-21s training with the first team is so regular, that isn’t so abnormal. 

“Moving up and then back becomes second nature and helps in dealing with any disappointment - because of course, if you go up a level, you want to stay up. So you have to find a way to stay next time you go up. 

By Bennett Dean
Benicio Baker-Boaitey has made four Premier League appearances this season.

“There is always something to aim for - getting on the bench, coming on, starting a game, there is always something else to push for each time you hit one of those targets.”

Of Saturday’s under-21 squad, Ben Jackson, Leigh Kavanagh, Samy Chouchane and Luca Barrington have also been on the first-team bench this season.

“We have had a lot of transition between the two groups, players flowing back and forth, a lot of different players too, which is very positive for us,” Ruth said. 

“It is not just the same players who go over and train with the first team. It varies, and Roberto and Andrew Crofts are very open-minded about seeing all the group and letting them all see what it is like.

“The taste of first-team action, either playing or training, gives them a flavour and becomes a carrot for them. We hope it drives them on to want more of that.”