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Brexit's player pathway time-bomb will hand Quinn and 'new' FAI a baptism of fire

Daniel McDonnell



Niall Quinn. Photo: Sportsfile

Niall Quinn. Photo: Sportsfile


Niall Quinn. Photo: Sportsfile

"We can't turn water into wine," said Niall Quinn, yesterday, in his new role as a spokesperson for the League of Ireland.

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Quinn was front and centre at the media day to mark the start of the 2020 season, a contrast from previous years where John Delaney posed for photos and Fran Gavin did the interviews.

The latter's contribution this year was a few quotes in a press release, whereas the freshly appointed deputy CEO was the face of the FAI and clearly steering this ship now.

He is assuming control at a fascinating time.

The water-to-wine line was in the context of the need to look at funding streams to the League of Ireland, with Quinn offering his view that the league was given a raw deal under the old regime.

It is fair to say that a lot of the issues he spoke about have been touched on before; principally the need to create academy structures here in order to provide good options for our teenagers, allowing them to gain an education - both on and off the park - before they go to another jurisdiction.

"We would like every club with a strong academy playing national league football at underage levels and the quality coaches we have working with the elite," said Quinn, "So (you have) the elite players getting hours of fabulous coaching."

In theory it sounds great but, in practice, Ireland are some distance off having proper foundations in place. However certain clubs - with Shamrock Rovers leading the way -are trying to offer a viable alternative to emigration.

What few anticipated was Brexit barrelling into the picture and choice being removed from the equation.

The FAI have no reason to believe Ireland will be granted an exemption to FIFA rules which basically state that European 16-18-year-olds can only move to another EU country.

Therefore, England is off the agenda from later this year. Promising starlets born in 2005 must stay in Ireland until they turn 18, unless clubs from EU countries come calling.

Perhaps the super powers will find a way to move the families of the next Troy Parrott or Adam Idah or Aaron Connolly over - to circumvent rules - but that would be a big commitment for sides further down the food chain.

As Ireland gets excited about the potential of what might be a vintage generation, it's fair to ask if the next crop will reach the highest standard without the option of continuing their football schooling in a Premier League structure.

Other sides have tried to follow the lead of Rovers by signing promising 16-year-olds to professional deals, but it would be a stretch at this stage to say that the football industry here is remotely ready for the responsibility.

This should be a source of motivation rather than a reason to panic.

It's well and good to cite how this change might affect the next Parrott or Idah or Connolly, yet a full examination of the subject must also ask what it might mean for the less fortunate ones who leave at 16 and come home with nothing.

This contingent is lower in profile, but greater in quantity.

Parents who have expressed concern about these developments may not realise that for their son, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Quinn said he likes the idea of players not being able to go away until they are 18 because it means that academic concerns will have to go hand in hand with any initiatives.

With Government - a key player going forward - that will be a help.

"We have to prove there is an elite programme here that you can be proud of," Quinn continued.

"I would take confidence that even in a sometimes chaotic regime, we were still able to bring through the players who are now showing their talents across the water."

This proves that schoolboy clubs here have coaches that are able to take raw material and bring youths to a level where they are attractive to the big fish in a global market.

What has to happen now is a knitting together of the strands in the game so that they can all feel involvement in the post-Brexit reality.

The best coaching minds have to be spending time with the best players and better relationships between factions of the game have to be fostered.

Forced marriages of schoolboy and League of Ireland clubs must be replaced by constructive relationships; the moving of the goalposts will affect compensation terms and conditions and it is in the interests of all parties to find common ground.

What must transpire is a coherent plan that aligns top coaches with the early blooming stars to ensure that they don't end up viewing Brexit as a checkpoint to their improvement.

"The way I would put it is the new-look FAI is now an enabler for League of Ireland, it is not a blocker. That's quite important," said Quinn.

They've got a hell of a job on their hands. And precious little time to properly make the most of a game-changing opportunity.

Irish Independent