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Brexit is an opportunity for football in Ireland and we can't waste that

Richard Dunne


Players staying at home for an extra two years, to improve as a player and mature as a person, could be highly beneficial in the long run

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Richard Dunne made his Everton debut as a teenager

Richard Dunne made his Everton debut as a teenager

Richard Dunne made his Everton debut as a teenager

Even though we don’t know all the details yet, there’s no doubt that Brexit will have a huge impact on Irish football and how we send our players away.

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And this could be a chance for the game at home, especially the League of Ireland, to change how things have been done and try to make things better.

The better players, the elite, will still go away, as they have always done, but delaying that move to England until 18 could help a whole generation of players get a bit more time to develop their careers, and give them a better chance.

There are different interpretations of the new rulings after Brexit but it's very likely that next year players from EU countries, including Ireland, will not be able to sign for English clubs until they are 18.

If it works out, you could have Irish U16 and U17s playing whilst they are based in Ireland. Clubs would be watching them on that international stage and it could open up opportunities in places other than England.

I have a feeling that the big clubs in England will find a way to get players they really want over from Ireland – they always find a way.

They have bent the rules before by moving the player's family over to England, sometimes by getting the dad a job at the club, so he can go over before the age of 16.

Usually when a big Premier League club identifies a player they really want from Ireland, they'll move mountains to get him over and they’ll find loopholes. The few hundred thousand it costs to move a player’s family won’t be an issue for the big teams.

But the lesser clubs in Britain won’t all be able to do that, the Championship and League One teams who have signed Irish players.

And they are still kids when they go away. I know. I was 16 when I left home go to to England, and maybe an extra two years at home, getting that time to grow up a bit, play some football at a decent level, can help them develop for when they do go abroad.

There is a dilemma there, as there was for me and my parents when Everton wanted me at 16, but most people, when they get the opportunity, will go. I got to play in the first team, in the Premier League at 17, so it worked out for me, but there are so many players, good players, who were back home by 18 or 19, their chance gone. Maybe if they'd only gone at 18, more mature with added development and education, it would have had a different outcome.

I don’t know how I'd have reacted if I was told at 16 that I had to stay at home, stay in school, instead of following my dream of going to England, but I was more physically developed at 16 than a lot of the other players around me.

Looking at it now, staying at home for an extra two years, to improve as a player and mature as a person, could be highly beneficial in the long run.

We do need higher standards at home to fill the gap if players do have to stay until they are 18, and the FAI need to step in here and play a role, help establish academies where players train every day, not twice a week.

And we should look at Europe if England is closed off as a route. The biggest problem is the language and it scares people: you can be homesick anywhere you go, but at least if you speak the language it's a bit easier, and it would be hard for an Irish kid of 16 to be away in Germany.

But you can deal with that. My kids were seven and nine when we moved to France, they came here not speaking French...and now they're fluent. They even argue with each other in French, young people pick these things up, and while it would be a challenge for an Irish lad to move to Holland or France at 17, it has to be looked at, at least.

You can also expose Irish football more, have our clubs and players play in tournaments in Europe. We do need to strengthen the game in Ireland but we also need to give our players wider option.

I spent a bit of time at Shamrock Rovers last summer and what they do is brilliant. There was discussion about sending some of their players to France, or for French players to go there, just to expose them to a different type of game, a different way of life, to broaden players' horizons.

But the Brexit issue is an opportunity for the game in Ireland and we can't waste that.

It's not a total disaster if our players only go to England at 18, they will be mentally and physically more mature, but the League of Ireland clubs need to do more and they need to work with the schoolboy clubs to make this work in a new set-up.

They have to pay proper compensation to the schoolboy teams when they take their players. If the likes of Home Farm or Crumlin United have coached a player from the age of six and brought him along, making him into the player he is, then the League of Ireland club who take that player at 15 need to treat that schoolboy club with respect and pay the going rate.

It's a challenge but also an opportunity and we need to make the most of it.

Online Editors