YOUNG players from the Ayr United Football Academy are being given a bigger platform for their talents after being given an opportunity to play at a higher level.

The Scottish FA last week announced the latest major developments in their Project Brave initiative, with confirmation of the club placings within the new academy structure.

The Boards of Ayr United Football Academy (AUFA) and Ayr United FC are pleased to announce that the Academy teams will compete in the Progressive Section, which was designed to ensure that developing, ambitious academies could position themselves to progress to full Elite status.

AUFA are ideally placed to do so and, at latest, will make application for Elite status in June 2018, when the academies will be re assessed.

They are already in discussion with the Scottish FA about this next move, as they have fulfilled 73 of the 75 Elite criteria against which we were assessed and although pleased to be an ambitious academy, we are disappointed that automatic entry to the Elite section was not granted.

Now the Academy teams will compete against the other seven Progressive teams, in the Scottish FA games programme, three times per season and against the Elite teams once per season. This will ensure that they face the same stiff opposition as they have done for the past few years.

Apart from Ayr United all of the other clubs in the Elite and Progressive categories are playing in the Premiership or the Championship. At the same time, some Premiership and Championship clubs have not been included in the Elite or Progressive categories.

ELITE: Aberdeen, Celtic, Hamilton, Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Rangers.

PROGRESSIVE: Ayr United, Dundee United, Forth Valley, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Partick Thistle, Ross County, St Mirren, St Johnstone.

PERFORMANCE: Dundee, Fife, Greenock Morton, Queen’s Park.

The standards around our Talented Young Footballers Programme are equal to those of the Elite teams. The Academy staff has been preparing for entry to the new stage of the Club Academy set-up for the last year.

Several key full time appointments have been made to the coaching staff.

* A full-time Head of Sports Science has been appointed

* A full-time Head of Performance Analysis has been appointed

* A Head of the Professional Programme has been appointed.

* Standards have generally been raised all round.

The newly-appointed personnel will of course remain in place, and standards will be enhanced in preparation for the next application. In short, we are not content to remain in the Progressive section.

Elite status was and remains the Academy's goal and while we seek this, their young players will be offered the same high level standards as their counterparts in the Elite section.

This will undoubtedly improve the players’ chances of progressing to first team football and achieving international status. Full time training has been introduced, leading to contracts being put in place for Academy players, positioning them to compete at first team level.

Already this season, eight Academy graduates have made appearances in the first team, with 5 of these, David Waite, Luke McCowan, Leon Murphy, Stuart Faulds and James Hilton making debuts, with Keiran Balfour excelling in the 20’s team and patiently awaiting his turn.

Finn Ecrepont has represented Scotland at 16’s level and there are others Finn Ecrepont playing for Scotlandin the younger age groups waiting for their chance to show their talents on the higher stages.

Head of Academy, Davie White has welcomed the news.

He said: “This is another important step on the Academy’s pathway to the top. We have been steadily improving standards since the Academy was formed and this is not the end of that pathway, merely a slight pause before we move on to Elite status.

"Our staff and volunteers are all aware of our ambitions and I am proud of their commitment and the way that they have applied themselves to providing the environment which our young players experience.

I look to coaches, players, parents and staff to support our objective to remain competitive, maintain high standards and show constant enthusiasm within the Progressive section. We aim to demonstrate to the Scottish FA on and off the pitch that we are ready for the Elite step up when the opportunity arrives."