| 10.3°C Dublin

LOI shows that there is life after England


Keith Andrews is impressed by the League. Photo: Sportsfile

Keith Andrews is impressed by the League. Photo: Sportsfile

Keith Andrews is impressed by the League. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland U21 team coach Keith Andrews admits that his time spent here has changed his view of the League of Ireland.

And while the former international admits that the leap from the LOI to the senior Ireland squad is too big for a player to make, he feels that the presence of so many home-based stars in Stephen Kenny's squad offers hope to players.

Andrews won 35 senior caps but was never picked at U21 level, passed over for rival players. He's with the U21 group this week as part of the coaching staff, preparing for the invitational Toulon Tournament, with Ireland's first game against China on Monday.

It's Ireland's first time to compete at Toulon, a non-competitive tournament, since 2002 but back then, the Republic's squad didn't have a single home-based player.

Even with the withdrawal due to injury of UCD's Neil Farrugia, Kenny's squad has six home-based players: Conor Kearns and Liam Scales (UCD), Darragh Leahy (Bohemians), Jamie Lennon (St Pat's), Zak Elbouzedi and Aaron Drinan (Waterford).

Those call-ups have caused havoc in the league, with only three Premier Division games to be played tonight while Bohs (Leahy) and Pat's (Lennon) will miss their clubs' matches.

Andrews, and manager Kenny, have defended the decision to call-up LOI players despite the knock-on effect that has on the league, answering back to protests last week from Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley that Irish-based players should have been left out. And Andrews admits he's been surprised by what's going on here.


"I wouldn't have seen a lot of the League of Ireland in the last 20 years. It's been the last two years that I've been home and watched a lot more of it and then more so with this role I have," says Andrews.

"You're playing in a very tough league here. It's improved, it really has.

"I don't want to sound condescending as I haven't paid a huge amount of interest to the LOI, because you don't over in England. When I was home I'd go to games sporadically and when I was at MK Dons I'd have been over scouting.

"The improvement in the league even in that time is drastic, and by that I mean players first and foremost, but also how teams are set up tactically. You can see the evolution," he added, stressing the value of competitive games here over the U23 league in England.

"To judge that 23s game against a Rovers-Pat's game or a Bohs-Rovers game, that's a proper game. U23s games in England, it's for younger players of 18 or 19. If you're still playing 23s football at 21 or 22 it's probably not going to happen.

"This year in particular we've seen some lads come back from clubs in England like Elbouzedi and Mandroui, Darragh Leahy. It shows that it's not finished when sometimes people might have said, 'that's it'.

"Will it be a springboard? I don't know. But I will say that I've been very impressed with how they have been coached and even physically, how they have been conditioned."