Intervention by the FAI’s top interim executives, Gary Owens and Niall Quinn, has triggered a U-turn on controversial changes planned by the largest schoolboy league in the country.
On Wednesday, the Dublin District Schoolboys League (DDSL) informed their clubs that from September’s resumption, U11 matches will be 9-a-side and U12 leagues will switch to full-sized 11-a-side formats.
The DDSL, which caters for 20,000 children, had been adhering to the FAI’s directive of 7-a-side for U11s and 9-a-side for U12s but, not for the first time, chose to ditch elements of the association’s Player Development Plan (PDP).
Last year, they spearheaded a campaign to revert the season from summer to the traditional school calendar, dealing a heavy blow to the FAI’s High Performance Director Ruud Dokter.
Their umbrella body, the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI), are stridently opposed to the Dutchman being retained in the role when his contract expires this month.
These latest sweeping alterations from the league came without warning and it's unknown whether their board, dominated by clubs, agreed to the measures, as the brief email provided no explanation or context.
The incessant backlash from clubs and coaches has been fierce, bringing into sharp focus the underlying tensions hampering the creation of a unified structure of youth development.
The DDSL’s fellow league in Dublin, the North Dublin SL, did attempt to supply rationale to their plans in notifying clubs of concerns on Thursday. Rather than issue an edict, they instead pleaded for action from the FAI.
That has certainly followed in the case of the DDSL.
Initially, on Thursday, contact was made by the FAI with the SFAI, after which interim chief executive Owens and his deputy Quinn held a teleconference with DDSL chairman Paddy Dempsey.
A statement to mothball Wednesday’s proposal is expected today.
Dempsey had been lined up to represent schoolboy football on the new FAI board, only to back out at the eleventh hour in December.
Within 24 hours of gleefully accepting the endorsement of his SFAI council members to fill the vacancy created by John Earley’s resignation, he cited time constraints for reversing his decision.
His nomination may well have been blocked by Sports Minister Shane Ross, who was determined to rid the FAI of the ‘old guard’.
The DDSL had released a statement of support for embattled FAI chief executive John Delaney in March 2019, just as the wave of controversy was leading to his demise. It was unsigned.
Dempsey has since been proposed as the SFAI’s nominee on the FAI’s Football Management Committee, a new forum established by the governance review group to operate directly beneath the board. The new committees have yet to be fully populated and Owens suggests they'll be reviewed before completion.