Schoolboys' chief defiant after FAI pass '80km' rule
FURTHER rancour within schoolboy football is on the cards after the FAI narrowly succeeded in having a rule restricting movement of players passed at an emergency general meeting.
Under the new rule, players aged 16 and under will be allowed to sign for clubs based within 80km of their usual place of residence.
Following an intense debate on the matter, the motion was carried by 65 votes to 20. As a two-thirds majority was required – 57 in numerical terms – the outcome was much tighter than expected.
This was despite a pre-recorded message from the FAI chief executive John Delaney which was broadcast on a big screen in advance of the vote. Delaney, overseas with an FAI delegation on UEFA business, urged those in attendance to do the right thing for football by backing the wishes of the association. It wasn't enough to dissuade the powerful Schoolboy FAI (SFAI) lobby from opposing the motion and ultimately voting against it. They were supported by the Women's FAI (WFAI).
The SFAI, representing the 32 schoolboy leagues in the country, had only last Saturday amended their own 'radius' rule on the subject at an EGM in Galway, setting the distance at 50km. This represented an increase of just 1km on their previous 49km rule, which saw U-15 Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL) team Kilnamanagh thrown out of football last season after an alleged breach.
Delaney reiterated in his speech the need to avoid such a recurrence, though the SFAI insist they addressed this concern by reducing the sanction from expulsion to forfeiture of the game and a €1,000 fine on the player's club and league.
Several strands under the football umbrella – the Airtricity League, the Junior Committee and the FAI Schools among them – spoke in favour of the rule, stressing that the movement of elite players will facilitate their long-term development.
It was also pointed out that Ruud Dokter, the FAI's high performance director, shared the view of his predecessor Wim Koevermans, that the "best should be allowed to play with the best."
Perhaps the most stinging remark during the exchange of views was delivered by Limerick District Schoolboys League secretary Gerry McCormack, who said: "There are a few of people in the room today who wouldn't even know what size football schoolboy players use."
SFAI chairman Mick O'Brien remained adamant last night that they would implement their 50km rule. It would seem, therefore, that clubs registering players who reside between 50km and 80km from their pitch will be exonerated only if they appeal any SFAI sanction to the FAI.
So, a meeting intended to bring clarity to the matter has merely served to deepen the divide between the warring factions in Irish football.