In the absence this year of FAI support for the PFAI’s annual training camp for out of contract League of Ireland footballers, the players’ union has had to dig into its own resources and rely on the charity of clubs and others to ensure that the 2017 programme could kick off as planned yesterday.
Bohemians provided balls, bibs, and cones, CX Sports donated kit and Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk offered the Roadstone complex and Oriel Park, respectively, for games. That just left the not inconsiderable matter of sourcing a training pitch and, as it happens, the PFAI didn’t have to go too far to find one: Just a few 100 yards, in fact, from the pitch they would normally use at the National Training Centre at Abbotstown. But the move has come at a cost, the FAI’s insistence that their own facilities are unavailable meaning the PFAI are this year having to pay rent to use an alternative training complex within the National Sports Campus.
“It’s €120 per session for us to use the facility here,” PFAI general secretary Stephen McGuinness said yesterday.
“That’s money that could be used better as regards to education for the players or whatever. Or, ultimately, even if you’re paying the FAI, the money is staying in the game where now it’s going out to the third party.
“For eight years the FAI have supported the programme with kit, balls, water, equipment. They provided us with the AUL, before Abbotstown was built, and that was all free of charge, and we have used Abbotstown for the last few years.
“I wrote to the FAI in regard to keeping that relationship going. I met with them on Friday and they just told us that it was unavailable to the PFAI. None of it was available. I thought it was a date clash, maybe they had something on, but that didn’t seem to be the case and I was clearly told it was unavailable to us.
“The disappointing thing from our point of view, and the support from the FAI which hasn’t happened, is that this is not about the PFAI, it’s about the players who, ultimately, you would think, the FAI care about and would overlook whatever issues they have with us and be able to assist players.”
In response, the FAI issued a brief statement, which said: “The PFAI came last Thursday looking for the pitches to play on. With the notice that they gave, they just weren’t available.”
It was subsequently clarified that the first request came in the form of a letter on Thursday followed by the matter being raised again during a meeting between the PFAI and the FAI on Friday.
FAI sources last night maintained that use of the pitches, even although all-weather, has to be limited, and indicated that on the dates requested they were generally unavailable and not just to the PFAI. The inability to provide training gear, it was claimed, was linked to the FAI’s having changed kit supplier to New Balance in a deal with was agreed in May and unveiled in August.
Since the PFAI took a high profile role in backing the Irish senior women’s team’s demand for better conditions last year, relations between the union and the FAI appear to have deteriorated, with the two bodies also finding themselves at odds over the match-fixing allegations involving Athlone Town and Bray Wanderers.
Asked what he believes the contentious issues might be, McGuinness said yesterday: “I don’t really know. The women’s international stuff, Bray, Athlone. They seem to be the issues but I honestly don’t know.
“We have written to them to request a meeting with John Delaney, which hasn’t happened. I wrote and got a response a few months back saying the timing wasn’t right to meet him. We’ve never got anyone saying to us ‘here are the issues we’ve got with you, please sort these out and we can work together’.”
McGuinness also noted that the FAI was not represented by a senior official at the PFAI’s recent annual awards ceremony.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s the first year we haven’t had anybody from the FAI at our top table, as long as I am involved as chairman, a committee member and general secretary.”
Ironically, although relations seem to be far from neighbourly, the PFAI continues to occupy office space at FAI headquarters.
“The very reason we moved into Abbotstown was that we would have a working relationship, where the football family, as it was being sold to us, could work together and now, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s happening,” said McGuinness.
“We’re more than willing to assist, to work with the FAI. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be coming the other way.”
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