The FAI’s Under-15 national league will kick off in August and will be followed in the near future by an Under-13 equivalent, according to John Delaney.
Speaking last night at the launch of an elite academy initiative between Bray Wanderers and St Joseph’s Boys, the FAI chief executive outlined that recent developments around underage football are to a certain extent more important than Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria.
The collaboration — now entitled St Joseph’s Bray Academy — is based at the old Bective rugby ground in south Dublin, a playing venue which may change from private to State ownership shortly in order to facilitate infrastructural investment.
“This venture meets the key pillars of what the FAI are trying to implement at club level,” said Delaney. “St Joseph’s and Bray are our standard bearers for other clubs to follow. Events such as this one and the opening of the Shamrock Rovers recently at Roadstone are big days for Irish football.”
In the face of criticism at the lack of talent breaking into the senior international team, the governing body three years ago deployed High Performance Director Ruud Dokter with the task of introducing a pyramid system with League of Ireland clubs at the apex.
That meant adding an Under-17 tier to the Under-19 league already in place, but the most demanding mission was the Under-15 equivalent, as this area has traditionally been dominated by powerful schoolboy clubs.
The drive hasn’t been without it’s pitfalls, as figureheads such as St Kevin’s Boys — who produced the more recent younger stars of the Ireland team, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick — slated the move as counter-productive, while Galway outfits Mervue United and Salthill Devon stepped away from the national underage leagues this season with a parting shot at the direction taken by the FAI.
Central to the scepticism is the uncertainty around funding. It is estimated €100,000-per-annum is required to meet the running costs of three underage national league teams, a whopping sum for most clubs already struggling to stay afloat at senior level.
While that outlay is manageable for the likes of Dundalk and Cork City, who almost annually qualify for European competition and accrue the lucrative prize-money that follows, the vast majority of the 20 outfits find it difficult to survive from month to month.
As was outlined at last night’s event, the best of budding talent will still accept the lure of English football.
The current Under-17 squad operating under the St Joseph’s/Bray banner are losing Max Murphy to Stoke City and Shane Flynn to Leicester City.
Until the structure proposed by the FAI enables players to remain at home while making a living from the game, emigration remains the preferred option.
“We had 10 home-based players in the recent Ireland squad, which reached the last-16 of the Euros,” asserted Dokter.
“Six of them started in the game against England, which resulted in only a 1-0 defeat.” It’s not that long ago any defeat by an Ireland youth team would be bemoaned, but changed times and personnel onset different standards.
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