A BARRY schoolboy has been earmarked as a possible future star of Welsh disability sport, after being called up to the national football squad for players with learning difficulties.
Seventeen-year-old Richard Smith, who attends Ysgol Maes Dyfan, was spotted during football coaching sessions at the school and has since progressed to the extent that he could soon be lining up in a Welsh shirt to play in international matches and competitions, including the home nations tournament next Easter.
Welsh Learning Difficulties National Squad manager Grant Kalahar, who works for the Welsh Football Trust, said: "I have been really pleased with Richard's progress both as a player and a person since he was selected for the South Wales Learning Difficulties Regional Squad recently.
"It is a great feeling to see him step up to the National Squad because he has worked so hard on his game and his life skills.
"He is a deep lying midfielder with an eye for a pass and has a great game understanding."
Proud that Ysgol Maes Dyfan may soon have an international footballer on their books, teacher Chris Chaulk said: "We play all sports in the school and this is an excellent achievement for Richard.
"He works very hard at his sport and loves his football. It is thoroughly deserved."
Richard's soccer skills have been nurtured by football coaches Andy Davies, Edryd Thomas and Adam Fowler who have been going into Ysgol Maes Dyfan on a regular basis during the last year to run football sessions for boys and girls at the school.
In sessions arranged in partnership by the Welsh Football Trust, Post2Post Coaching and the Vale Council's sports and play development team, they identified Richard's potential and invited him along for extra training at Dinas Powys FC, where Andy also coaches.
Andy said: "At Dinas Powys we welcome players with learning difficulties and cerebral palsy to join the club and play in five-a-side and seven-a-side tournaments against other local disability football clubs.
"We also run a new 11-a-side integrated team which features players with learning difficulties alongside non-disabled players from the club's second team and under 18s squad.
"The new integrated sessions are already proving to be hugely successful for all involved," added Andy.
"The players with learning difficulties such as Richard have really benefited from playing alongside mainstream players, and have also enjoyed the opportunity to play regular 11-a-side matches, something which is not always possible in disability football.
"The new integrated team will be playing fixtures against Cardiff City FC, Newport County FC and Treforest FC, and we would welcome any new players who are interested in joining our club."
Chelsea fan Richard took his first steps into international football by attending a training camp late in September at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff, before a second training camp in October which will involve a behind-closed-doors match with a professional club.
* To find out more about Dinas Powys FC's integrated football squad for players aged 15+ call Edryd Thomas on 07540 349036.