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Saturday 23 March 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Lincoln's search for cúpla focal puts spotlight on the test that Irish football keeps on failing'


Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Come to Lincoln City, and do your Leaving Cert. As a sales pitch, it doesn't exactly scream glamour.

But a new advertisement on the League Two club's website has offered an insight into the reality of the market for teenage Irish footballers. It's safe to say that 'Academy Vacancy: Irish Language Tutor' is an ad that would rule out most of the job hunters over the water.

"The Lincoln City Academy is looking to recruit a part-time personal tutor," it read.

"The purpose of this is to teach a Scholar the Irish Language as part of their Leaving Certificate from September 2019 for approximately 4 hours/week."

Evidently, Lincoln are trying to deliver on a commitment to a prospective recruit.

They should be commended for trying to offer the best possible service - other clubs phone it in when it comes to promises related to education. Desire can be driven from the player too, of course.

A condition of Meathman Darragh Lenihan's move to Blackburn in his teens was that the club would facilitate the completion of his Leaving Cert.

Otherwise, Lenihan's parents were reluctant to let their son go. Blackburn ended up sourcing an individual from an Irish family in Liverpool who was able to oblige with the cúpla focal.

Similarly, Shamrock Rovers starlet Gavin Bazunu was only allowed to join Manchester City once it didn't affect his Leaving.

City flew staff members over to Ashfield College in Dundrum - the fee-paying school that Rovers have a partnership with - to work on an arrangement that allowed as smooth a transition as possible.

You would expect the Premier League champions to do things properly. Bazunu is over there now, surrounded by elite footballers every day while keeping up with the books on the side.

That's a slightly more idyllic image than the concept of a youngster uprooting from home to spend a vital period of their life in Lincoln - a city in the East Midlands - with a club that will not be in a position to offer Irish imports a starting salary of circa £150,000 per year (a standard wage for players in Manchester City's development structure).

No disrespect is intended to Lincoln - a club that is on the up which looks on course to win promotion this year - but there is something dispiriting about Irish youths viewing their environment as the entry point into England.

A few years back, there was some disquiet when St Kevin's Boys exported four players from their academy to Stevenage.

St Kevin's defended that on the basis that the Stevenage set-up was superior to anything available at home. All four players were home by the age of 20 and recent Bohs signing Luke Wade-Slater is the only one active in the League of Ireland.

Still, at least they 'got away.'

It's a dysfunctional system, yet the Kevin's criticism of the local alternatives remains valid. Rovers have made the most positive moves to address a coherent combination between full-time football and education that allows kids to stay at home - but even that is only available to a chosen few.

Niall Quinn has made inroads politically by highlighting the plight of footballers aged 16-18 as part of his plans, with the ominous prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit potentially raising complications for players in that age bracket.

Uncertain times, indeed. Plotting a stable path for our best young footballers is the exam that Irish football keeps failing.

Irish Independent

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