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Shefflin is an example to all
Despite the usual negatives, including the economic gloom, one of the nicest things to happen in the past week was the visit last Monday by All-Ireland hurling hero Henry Shefflin to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. Accompanied by Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and some of his team-mates, they were greeted by dozens of fans, some in the black and amber colours, all striving to hold the envied MacCarthy trophy which was hoisted on high by team members.
The sincerity and humility emanating from Shefflin's interview is well worthy of reflection. The 33-year-old Hurling King, who created history by becoming the first hurler to win nine All-Ireland medals as a starting player, said that meeting many of these young children had helped to keep him 'humble'. "I've been lucky enough I've been coming here for a few years now and lucky enough that I've three healthy kids of my own at home as well.
"You can wake up in the morning beaming ear to ear because you're a champ, you've won an All-Ireland and you think it's the be-all and end-all. But when you come in here you soon realise that it's not and you're very humbled and privileged that you have your health -- to come in here and see these kids, they're the real warriors, and they're the real people. It's a very humbling experience indeed," he said.
Henry Shefflin was no different in his thinking on reaching the All-Ireland pinnacle and the utopia going with it than Ireland's richest billionaire businessman, the world's no 1 in sport or a Celebrity of the Year on achieving fame. How many are as forthcoming and honest as Shefflin in humbly admitting their luck and that we are still 'only people?'
League's role not recognised
Dion Fanning, in his usual eagerness to accentuate the negatives about Irish football, completely ignored the role the League of Ireland plays in developing young players.
There are seven players in Giovanni Trapattoni's squad to face Germany who came through the League of Ireland and, with English clubs now casting their net across the world for young talent, our own league is going to play an increasingly important role in the development of future generations of players. Positive steps have already been taken with the introduction last season of an under 19 league and I understand there are plans to also have an under 17 league within the next few years. The standard of football is excellent and many players have already gone on to play in the Premier and First Divisions.
There is no point in developing players at schoolboy level if you do not have an outlet for them to continue their development once they have come out of schoolboy football. As Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and James McClean have shown, not every Irish international gets signed by an English club at 16 years of age. If it hadn't been for the League of Ireland, that seven would have been a "lost generation".
But then, the Sunday Independent's negativity towards the League of Ireland shouldn't come as a surprise. The previous Sunday, your report of the EA Sports Cup Final was a mere four paragraphs in length, a lot smaller than the six Premiership matches on the next page. If it wasn't for the occasional references by the likes of Eamonn Sweeney, the League of Ireland wouldn't exist in your paper because I certainly wouldn't be holding my breath for the Premiership-loving Dion Fanning to start writing about it.
Unfair to bash FAI's efforts
The Republic of Ireland is a small country of four million people that punches above its weight in so many different spheres of life including sport and including soccer. But Dion Fanning isn't satisfied and, despite the meagre resources at their disposal, he wants the FAI to copy the Germans and build academies across the country as well as copying the Belgians and the Swedes.
Germany, Belgium and Sweden have much bigger populations than Ireland and are a lot more affluent. In addition, soccer is the number one team sport in those countries unlike here where the FAI have to compete with Gaelic football, hurling and rugby. That the FAI have achieved as much as they have despite being in competition with three other major field sports in a tiny country is remarkable. Bear in mind also that the GAA used all its political and cultural influence from the founding of the State in 1921 to stymie the growth of soccer and ensure that it is very much the poor relation of the big four field sports when it comes to facilities and influence in the corridors of power.
It is remarkable to think that today there are still some schools in Ireland which will not allow their pupils to play soccer. When is Dion Fanning going to write about the many good things going on in Irish soccer instead of providing a platform for people who have a gripe and just want to bash the FAI and Irish soccer?
Sunday Indo Sport