After a rigorous one-hour workout Friday afternoon, Cambridge Springs girls soccer coach Geoff Bristow offered his players a few minutes to rest before finishing the first week of practice with an intrasquad scrimmage.
But not everyone chose to stop.
“Do you see what he’s doing over there?” Bristow said as he pointed to the far end of the field where Darren Partington was working on drills with one of Cambridge’s freshmen.
“Those are the things he brings to this team,” Bristow continued. “She is a very promising player. She has a lot of potential. She’s very athletic. And he’s taking some one-on-one time right now to work on a few things with her.”
Partington is a coach with the Irish Soccer Academy and has spent two weeks each of the last three summers working at the Cambridge Springs team camp. That camp, which Partington ran with the help of a couple fellow academy coaches, including former Cambridge Springs goalie Mary Murray, concluded on Aug. 10 and was one of a couple taking place throughout the county this month.
The Irish Soccer Academy also conducted a camp with the Crawford County Youth Soccer Association (CCYSA) in Meadville.
“This is becoming very popular,” Bristow said.
“The big aim is to offer great coaching suited to individual teams,” Partington said. “We’re coaching coaches to become better coaches.”
Bristow said working with the Irish Soccer Academy provides opportunities the Lady Blue Devils otherwise would not have.
“The girls get to hear from high quality coaches,” he said. “They get to hear from someone other than their coaches, and they’re enthusiastic and excited to do that.”
Cambridge Springs senior Brianna Babb agreed.
“We have a routine and everything, but (Partington) brings in a different perspective. Even the coaches are like, ‘Oh yeah. I never really thought of that.’”
Cambridge Springs has gone the traditional route before and has attended team camps at colleges and/or universities and has even brought in coaches from those places to help with camps at its own field. But Bristow said those camps at other institutions were pricey.
“A lot of teams go to college camps and they charge a lot of money, Bristow said. “We did that at Edinboro, but too many families couldn’t afford the $200-plus expense.”
Bristow said his team also never really connected with the various other coaches. At least not like they do with Partington.
“When I took over the team three years ago, one of my first things I dedicated myself to was surrounding the girls with quality people. I hired Jim Miller from Meadville as my assistant, who is one of the best coaches in the area. And then we found Darren.”
Irish Soccer Academy has actually been working with Cambridge Springs for four years, but Partington didn’t make his first visit to the Spa’s home field in Saegertown until the 2010 season. When he did, though, it was a match that Bristow was extremely pleased with.
In fact, the next year Bristow requested Partington.
“Now, they just know,” Bristow said.
Partington lives in Liverpool, England where he works as a school teacher. He has been working with the Irish Soccer Academy for about five or six years, he said, but his résumé is much more decorated. It even includes playing at Wembley Stadium, site of the 1948 Summer Olympics, and the pinnacle of any English soccer player’s career.
“That’s a pretty big deal,” Partington said.
Partington has taken a pretty big interest in what he is doing in the states. Not only has he worked with Cambridge Springs, he has done camps at St. Marys, Meadville and even Kentucky. And in his time with the academy, he has noticed great growth in the sport particularly for girls.
“Before it was just (Major League Soccer),” Partington said. “There wasn’t a whole lot going on other than that. The USA women’s team has drawn massive interest.
“Before you knew of Mia Hamm and that was it. Now you can probably name a few players.”
Partington said women’s soccer is a pretty big deal in England.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, a lot of money has been pumped into women’s soccer,” he said. “Attendance is up. They probably broke records at the Olympics this year.”
Interest is growing.
Cambridge Springs, for instance, had 43 girls sign up for this year’s team. Bristow said the growth can be attributed to the team’s success, much of which is thanks to Partington.
“We keep in touch with him too,” Babb said.
“We’re not just here now, gone tomorrow,” Partington said. “We talk. It’s advice all the time.”
After all, Partington has built some pretty good friendships along the way.
“This isn’t just a high school soccer team,” Partington said. “I have friends here.”
Partington will spend one more week in the states before returning home. He has plans to check in on Cambridge Springs at its first scrimmage on Thursday at Slippery Rock. In between he may take to the golf course a few more times.
He has already been out several times with Bristow. He has also frequented Presque Isle and has taken in a few Pittsburgh Pirates games at PNC Park. He’s putting down some roots. And Partington has expressed an interest in perhaps moving here to the United States and coaching collegiate soccer.
A continuing tradition
The Irish Soccer Academy has had a presence in Crawford County for quite some time.
The relationship actually began at Maplewood High School and its girls soccer coach Ted Eriksen, according to Bristow. And for the past five years the academy — under the direction of founder Ronan Edwards of Dublin, Ireland — has been running a camp with CCYSA at its soccer facility on Townline Road.
Tracy Cronin’s 12-year-old daughter, Morgan, has attended the camp all five years.
“She still learns something every time,” Cronin said.
Cronin said the coaches spend a period of six weeks in the United States during the summer.
“I really think they enjoy coming here,” Cronin said. “And I think one big reason is back in Ireland there are not a lot of girls who play soccer like this. They have said before that there are not too many opportunities for girls to play at this level back there.”