Sport Soccer

Saturday 21 September 2019

FAI player development plan in tatters as schoolboy leagues call time on summer football

Ruud Dokter
Ruud Dokter

John Fallon

Underage clubs in Dublin have resoundingly crushed a tenet of the FAI's player development plan by applying the last rites to summer football.

A grand vision by the association's high performance director Ruud Dokter to have fixtures at all levels of football operating over a calendar year is in tatters.

A reversion to the traditional campaign, whereby games align with the school year, looks inevitable.

In surveys undertaken by the DDSL and NDSL over the past week, the two-thirds majority necessary to act was easily surpassed.

Dutchman Dokter wasn't long into his tenure in 2013 when the notion of summer soccer was floated.

His rationale centred on streamlining the season to coincide with the League of Ireland.

With almost 40,000 players registered to the Dublin District Schoolboys' League (DDSL) and North Dublin Schoolboys' League (NDSL), the FAI were thrilled when they agreed to pilot the experiment from 2018.

However, they have suffered serious difficulties with a spike in cancellations throughout the summer months.

Holidays and various other clashes meant July and August became closed months, increasing the prevalence of teams disintegrating in the process.

Despite Karen Campion declaring from the rostrum at the FAI AGM in August that all 32 schoolboys league were compliant with the Player Development Plan, which includes calendar season, Dokter later admitted only half had switched.

Those leagues either delayed their vote, as Carlow did till last week and rejected the proposal, or others such as Cork decided to wait until 2020, the year in which the FAI decreed the directive was mandatory.

Neil Cronin of the Cork schoolboys league said last week that there was little point in other leagues moving to a concept if the Dublin cohort were drifting the other way.

It would, he contends, create chaos for national cup competitions, such as the SFAI and inter-league Cups.

Besides, resistance to the model was most rife outside of the capital. Competition from the GAA was cited, as were problems accessing facilities and referees.

An attempt by the FAI, led through President Donal Conway and former chief executive John Delaney, to seek buy-in on expanding the calendar season to the junior, adult ranks was met with a frosty response during a series of roadshows over the Autumn.

Clubs in Wexford told the FAI they would break away and form their own league if the FAI foisted their brainchild upon them.

While the original season was by no means perfect, some tweaks rather than a full obliteration was preferable to avoid what many predicted was an inevitable failure by the FAI.

They had enough problems brewing without engaging in another bout of self-infliction.

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