Tug-of-war over codes continuing, says King

AT least one woman who plays Gaelic games as well as international football for Ireland was asked by members of the GAA to sign a contract that would bar them from playing soccer, according to Noel King.

King, who is manager of the senior Irish ladies team and is also responsible for the development of women’s football in this country, made the claim at the Great Soccer Debate held in Portlaoise’s Heritage Hotel last night.

“There were rumours that the GAA tried to force girls to sign a contract that they wouldn’t play football,” said King. “I know that for a fact, I’ve seen the contract.”

There are women - and men - juggling two or more codes in every county in the country week in, week out, and the fight to secure the services of players is an ongoing one between the three major codes of GAA, rugby and soccer in particular.

Galway footballer Niamh Fahy is possibly the highest-profile example of a dual star in women's’ sports, but the 17-year-old has had little difficulty in balancing her duties so far in her career.

Last September, Fahy played an international with King’s senior team in Estonia before flying home early to play against Cork in the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ football final.

Meanwhile, it also emerged last night that the FAI’s Technical Development Plan has been heralded as one of the finest in the world at a recent conference in Croatia.

The mandarins at Merrion Square have rarely been in the news for positive reasons down the years, but the fact that its latest - and possibly most important - initiative, which aims to revolutionise football from grass roots through to elite levels, has been so highly lauded is a welcome boon to the game in this country.

“When the boom years first started in Irish football after 1988 the FAI wasn’t in a good position to take advantage of it,” said chief executive John Delaney at the debate in Portlaoise.

“It hasn’t been much heralded, but FIFA did announce recently that when they studied the Technical Development Plan, which Packie Bonner and myself brought to Croatia recently, they held it up as one of the best they had ever seen.”

“In 1996 there were only two coaches employed by the FAI. By the end of 2006 we expect to have 71 people working under technical director Packie Bonner, and there are plans for more next year.”

Delaney’s assertion that the FAI had changed for the better in recent times was backed by fellow panellists King, Fintan Drury, Fran Gavin and Damien Richardson. Drury, who acts as former Ireland boss Brian Kerr’s agent, believes there is still more to be done by the national body.

“The next challenge for the FAI is in administration. The FAI needs to get to a level where it becomes almost invisible. The FAI is well on the path to where it needs to be, but the administration needs to get to the next level.”

John Delaney also revealed that the FAI is to roll out a number of other plans. One will be a comprehensive review of the underage structures where, the CEO believes, children are being asked to play too many games with far too little technical coaching.

Another will tackle the issue of refereeing, with standards and numbers being of particular concern. Packie Bonner will chair the committee while Delaney himself will also participate.

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