Neal believes academy product can keep progressing
Neal Ardley believes that Ryan Sweeney’s involvement with Ireland Under-18s can only benefit AFC Wimbledon because it will offer him a platform to develop as a footballer.
Ryan (pictured second from left in the back row) made his debut for Ireland in a 0-0 draw away at Luxembourg with manager Jim Crawford using the match to assess potential candidates for the UEFA U-19 qualifiers in November.
Further involvement would benefit Ryan, according to Neal, who featured for England U-21s during his early days as a Wimbledon player.
“Playing against gifted players from abroad is a big thing,” said Neal. “I played in the Toulon tournament for England and we ended up winning the competition, which was fantastic. I don’t know how because it was the most one-sided 0-0 against Brazil I have ever seen, but we ended up winning it.
“You stay away from your family and have to eat, sleep and breathe football. You have to do everything right and it gives you those professional standards that you need at that level. For Ryan, that will be great.
“On the flip side of that we will need to have a look at Ryan when he gets back because he will have been training and playing throughout the summer. We have to be careful not to break him. We may have to look at how often we use him for training and do we restructure his programme? But I think over the course of the next year he will be an even better player for the experience.”
Ryan completed a rise through the AFC Wimbledon ranks by making three first-team appearances at the end of last season – and Neal believes that he could be a part of the club’s future if he continues his improvement.
“The academy coaches do a great job with the players,” Neal added. “They work on both feet and on various facets of their games. Technically, Ryan is very sound, but he needed to work with Alan Reeves on the more physical side of the game. Alan had to add more bravery to Ryan's game and the timing of his heading. You don’t get too much of that at academy football because a lot of it is played on the floor.
“Alan went overboard in one direction with him and by the end of the season Ryan had turned into a very aggressive centre-back, who wanted to win his headers and put his foot in.
“He is still growing, I think he was 6 ft three inches the last time I saw him, but he is probably nearly 6ft 4 inches now! Sometimes with that you can be a little bit uncoordinated, but we have to see him through and make sure we do not put too much on him. At the same time if we can add those qualities to his game and keep working on his bravery and defensive mentality then we could have a real prospect on our hands.”