Friday 30 September 2016

Stellar appointments tackle obvious flaw in youth development

Published 16/04/2016 | 02:30

The news that Damien Duff, pictured, Stephen McPhail, Keith Andrews and Mark Kinsella will be taking up positions on the coaching staff of the FAI’s underage sides is encouraging
The news that Damien Duff, pictured, Stephen McPhail, Keith Andrews and Mark Kinsella will be taking up positions on the coaching staff of the FAI’s underage sides is encouraging

In a major tournament year, the state of the nation reviews tend to take place at the end of the summer. Therefore, it is heartening that a proper debate about the health of underage football in Ireland has become a prominent part of the build-up to France.

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The news that Damien Duff, Stephen McPhail, Keith Andrews and Mark Kinsella will be taking up positions on the coaching staff of the FAI's underage sides is encouraging.

It was a no-brainer to get Duff and McPhail involved in the Irish international set-up now they are back living at home and have already expressed an interest in the area at Shamrock Rovers.

However, the FAI have often been accused of making decisions which raised questions about brain power so Ruud Dokter's move deserves praise.

Duff will be coaching with the U-15 team, a vital age group given that the elite players in that generation are effectively preparing to go to England.

Dokter acknowledged yesterday that an increased programme of training and matches is needed to improve contact hours between coach and player and that is a major issue which needs to be addressed.

Last week, Ireland's U-16 side came up against a slick and superior Turkish team that has improved considerably in the last 12 months with an intense schedule aiding their cause. The hosts lacked the same cohesion, among other things.

Star power won't solve that problem. Still, it will be a serious boost for the emerging youngsters to be sharing the same dressing-room as Duff, a player who has been there and done that. He made a big impression on rising Irish star Jack Byrne when his representatives set up a meeting for advice purposes and it's logical to have a person with that pedigree around the individuals that are aiming to be stars of the future.

Dokter is adamant that the FAI's decision to bring the quartet on board for a year is not a response to recent media commentary on the absence of ex-internationals on the staff from U-15 to U-21 level. Robbie Keane went vocal on this topic a couple of years back, and Steven Reid discussed it on these pages last week.

Graham Barrett's lengthy tome covered a range of areas, not least the continued exclusion of Brian Kerr. Duff has also questioned that but he will at least bring first-hand experience of the golden period in the late 1990s to his new brief.

Clamour

The clamour for the involvement of former senior players - in line with common practice in other countries - has put a couple of noses out of joint because it has been construed as an insult to the homegrown coaches currently overseeing the various teams.

After all, there is no guarantee that a top-class player will automatically become a top-class coach.

Dokter yesterday expressed the wish that the newcomers learn from the likes of Colin O'Brien (U-15) and Tom Mohan (new U-19 boss), who are extremely well regarded. He says that the FAI are obliged to give the recognisable faces a leg-up in the next phase of their career.

The criticism of the youth set-up has focused on a perception of a closed shop dominated by long standing FAI employees. Opening the door to Duff, McPhail, Andrews and Kinsella is a step in the right direction.

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