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Dokter's cure for football's ills falling on deaf ears


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Although the FAI's plan to overhaul the underage game will begin in September, the more radical reforms of the strategy show no signs of being embraced by those with ultimate responsibility for implementing the changes.

Saturday's annual general meeting of the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI), held in Cavan, included a briefing from FAI vice-president Donal Conway on the status of the Player Development Plan, a blueprint designed to address Ireland's alarming failure to produce players of real quality.

Only the first two recommendations of the 10-point plan - related primarily to introducing a uniform game structure from six-year-old upwards - were discussed by delegates from the 32 leagues that cater for the 100,000 players up to U-16 level.

While broad agreement prevails on these measures, which will see the national U-12 Cup switch to nine-a-side using small goals, gaining approval on the two most controversial changes floated by FAI high performance Director Ruud Dokter is still uncertain.

The first of these centres on funnelling elite players at all age-groups from their leagues into a regional structure to play on a weekly basis. Even more contentious is the notion of switching every league in the country to summer football.

A staunch dissenter of these proposals is veteran legislator Pat Kelly, so the election of the Waterford Schoolboy League secretary to the position of SFAI vice-chairman represents a curious development.

Kelly ventilated his concerns surrounding the FAI's charter during the association's roadshow in February and he wasn't alone.

As a provincial league already struggling to retain players in the face of competition from Gaelic football and hurling, he deems it nonsensical to compound the problem by altering the season to clash directly with their rivals.

The return of Kelly to the top table on Saturday - he beat challenger Chris Nestor from the Midlands League in a secret ballot - coincided with the largest league in the country, the Dublin District Schoolboys League (DDSL), ending their two-year boycott of SFAI meetings.

Relations between the DDSL and SFAI had broken down completely over several issues, principally the implementation of the infamous 'radius rule' preventing players travelling over certain distances from their school to play for teams as well as the removal of seeding from the national cup draws at league level.

John Earley, interim chairman of the SFAI up to Saturday's summit when he took the role on a two-year term, believes the decision of Kelly to come out of retirement can have a unifying effect on a schoolboy sector bedevilled with rancour.

"It was great to see the DDSL back at our meetings and I think Pat's return helped that," said the Tipperary man, now part of the FAI's powerful 10-man board.

"As I said on Saturday, we must put an end to the squabbling and concentrate on the hard work ahead. I think people from the leagues feel their voices will be heard now."

Earley also confirmed to the gathering that he hadn't given his blessing to the FAI's plans of allowing clubs in the new U-17 national league enlisting players at 15 years of age.

With the venture due to start in August, this recruitment practice is already threatening to ravage some of the best schoolboy clubs in the country.

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