The World Cup play-off defeat by Denmark cast Irish football into another period of introspection. Where are the players?
Just 16 Irishmen in Premier League squads, a new low, and none with the top clubs. Our most technical footballer 35 and playing in the Championship.
Our talisman, our sportsperson of the year, regularly found on the West Brom bench. Grumbles over our playing style, but also acceptance of our limitations. Where are the street footballers, the kids playing in the parks?
The FAI are rebuilding player pathways using the League of Ireland, and everyone accepts that process will be slow. But is it the right way to go? Schoolboy clubs feel threatened. Finances are tight. The political timebomb that is summer soccer is about to explode. Larry Ryan Irish Examiner talked to people from all sides of Irish football to canvass opinion on our seemingly broken supply lines.
Liam Brady would have loved to preside over another greening of North London, as took place in the 1970s when he, David O’Leary and Frank Stapleton arrived from Dublin to take central roles in an Arsenal team that once featured seven Irish players from north and south.
But it never happened in his 17-year reign as academy boss. By the end, the influx of hopefuls had dried to a trickle. “Going back to when I was in charge of Arsenal and had people scouting for me in Ireland, there were very few boys that they thought were of the standard to come to a club like Arsenal. That’s a worry, in my opinion. It’s a completely bleak situation generally. There is no John O’Shea, there is no Richard Dunne, there is no Robbie Keane, no Damien Duff. That’s scary. Players who can play at the highest level, We haven’t got them any more.
“It’s not a numbers game. We have thousands of kids playing football in Cork and Dublin and around the country. But it’s not happening for whatever reason.
Ruud Dokter, FAI High-Performance Director
In October there was a pivotal moment in the evolution of Irish football, though it didn’t grab many headlines in the days after Ireland had beaten Wales in Cardiff.
Jason Donohue named a Republic of Ireland U15 squad for games against Poland in which all but four players were affiliated to League of Ireland clubs — and that quartet belonged to St Kevin’s Boys, the Dublin schoolboy club which has been included in the U15 National League (somewhat controversially, in the eyes of other schoolboy sides).
Just a year earlier, an Ireland U15 teamsheet featured clubs such as Belvedere, Cherry Orchard, College Corinthians, Nenagh AFC, Lakewood, Gweedore Celtic.
Now some schoolboy clubs sniff about political selections. “Word is that players would have to join a League of Ireland club to be selected for their country,” one schoolboy club spokesperson said. But that suggestion was strongly dismissed by the FAI.
Extract from Irish Examiner article.