Dokter stands over structure of divisive U-17 league plan
Ruud Dokter has called on unhappy schoolboy clubs to look at the 'bigger picture' and build partnerships with SSE Airtricity League sides who will be participating in the new U-17 National League.
The process of establishing the league - which was launched yesterday - has proved to be far from straightforward. Some of Dublin's top football nurseries were refused a place, with the FAI's high performance director Dokter explaining that his ambition is to create alliances.
Dokter has plans to establish an U-15 league, which would pose even more challenges to the traditional order.
"I acknowledge the good work schoolboy clubs do but I'm looking at the bigger picture," said Dokter. "It's vital to have a structured pathway to the top of the pyramid.
"We want everyone in Ireland to collaborate. This is a perfect fit for our best young players who don't go away to England."
Dokter and the SSE Airtricity League chief Fran Gavin cited link-ups between St Joseph's Boys and UCD, Malahide United and Dundalk, and Bohemians and the NDSL (North Dublin Schoolboys League) as the three examples.
Gavin claims other discussions are ongoing, yet accepted the complicated relationship between the respective parties over the years due to issues of compensation over players. "It's been an effort to build bridges that haven't been there," he said.
Dokter has outlined that the U-17 initiative as just one aspect of his new Player Development Plan, although he declined to delve into detail on a plan to move all schoolboy seasons into the summer and the issue of whether there are simply too many leagues (32) around the country.
There is a school of thought that they are an obstacle to the best players in provincial regions coming into contact regularly from an early age.
"Within this (system) we can still go to elite structures," claimed Dokter, who had earlier acknowledged that some youngsters were only getting 'four or five' competitive games a season. "You need to be challenged every week from the age of 12 or 13."
Roy Keane was present to offer his own take on the opposition to the U-17 league, with certain leading schoolboy sides still keen to hold onto their kids.
"They don't own the player," he said. "It's not like slavery. You're there to help them and coach them - hopefully the player helps to give you a better team and win a few trophies - and if he has a chance to go and better himself in the League of Ireland or England, you wish them well.
"Maybe I am missing something but I think that's the club's responsibility."