No fun in sun for Stan’s men

IT sounds like there won’t be too much fun in the sun for Ireland’s footballers in May.

“It will be a training camp, not a holiday camp,” manager Steve Staunton said yesterday, as he revealed details of his plans for a squad get-together in the Algarve ahead of the friendly against Chile at Lansdowne Road on May 24.

The guarantee of good weather is one of the reasons Staunton has opted to take his players overseas but, while no game against local opposition is planned for Portugal, the focus will be firmly on work.

Said Staunton: “What we will do over those four or five days is for the next two years, because we’re not going to get time before the Dutch or German games to do set plays, go through our ideas and show the lads what we’re looking for. So this is an ideal opportunity for us.”

Staunton plans to bring a squad of 30 to the Algarve, among whom could well be Stephen Carr, whose recent return to the Newcastle United team seems to have brought his long-rumoured Irish comeback a step closer.

“Bobby (Robson), who lives in that neck of the woods, has spoken to Stephen on numerous occasions, so it’s looking very positive,” said Staunton.

“But while the 30 who will be coming I would see as the mainstay for the next two to four years, that’s not to say that people won’t come in and people won’t be left out. Most squads would be 20 or 22 so there will be people disappointed and, as I said before, we don’t know who we’re going to pick up along the way or how kids might progress.”

Staunton was speaking after paying a courtesy call to Sports Minister John O’Donoghue, during which they discussed the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown.

“It’s going to be fantastic for everyone,” said Staunton. “The Government and the FAI have a four or five-year plan, and I’ve got a four-year plan, and hopefully we will see it all coming together. We want to give the kids over here the best chance possible. Too many kids went over to England in the past and came home and got lost in the system. Hopefully, this new development will encourage kids to stay here a bit longer. And even if they do go to England they have something to come back to.”

Mr O’Donoghue detailed the plans for Abbotstown, the first phase of which will see the FAI move its offices there before the end of this year. Seven new pitches, medical facilities, hotel accommodation for teams and athletes and an indoor sporting arena would all follow, at a total cost of around e120 million.

The hope is that the facilities will attract countries competing in the 2012 Olympics in London.

FAI chief executive John Delaney described the Abbotstown proposals as “a quantum leap” for the association.

“We’ve spoken to the LFA (Leinster Football Association) and the SFAI (Schools Football Association of Ireland) about moving their operations out there, so it will become the house of football.

“This will change Irish football incredibly. I want kids from Mayo, Kerry, Waterford and Donegal, under our Emerging Talent Programme, to see this as an academy - their holy grail, their Croke Park, call it what you like.”

Although the decision on what to do with the Merrion Square offices will be made by the FAI board, Delaney said his preference would be to sell the property, the funds raised going towards the association’s contribution to the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road.

He also said that, despite some grumblings in GAA circles, he is pleased with the work being done between the GAA and the FAI on the use of Croke Park.

Meanwhile, Mr O’Donoghue expressed disappointment at opposition from local GAA clubs at plans for the yet to be completed Tallaght stadium being used exclusively for soccer. And he said the Government is not for turning.

“We invested €110m in Croke Park and they deserved it. We’ve invested 34% of our sports capital funding over the last number of years in gaelic games and they deserved it. And we said we would assist the GAA with their 26 acres at Rathcoole, which is on the same side of the city.

“We made a commitment that the Tallaght ground would be for Shamrock Rovers and probably one other League of Ireland club, and we’re still committed to that. If we were to change now we’d have to reduce the capacity of the ground to cater for the GAA.

“I am disappointed at the attitude of some GAA officials out there - I’m not so sure that those views are shared by the County Board of the GAA or the upper echelons of the GAA at Croke Park. I come from a GAA county and I suppose I would be described as a GAA man, but I’d like to think I’m a fair man as well. And that’s what we’re being - we’re being fair.”

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