Koevermans admits FAI fears over talent drain to Gaelic football
THE FAI have admitted that they have been losing the battle to keep young players in the game and stop them leaving for the GAA.
International performance director Wim Koevermans revealed that soccer players who return home from England after failing to secure a senior contract are being lured into Gaelic football.
The former Holland international has identified a lack of an elite pathway into professional football for players who are deemed surplus to requirements across the Irish Sea as the primary reason the sport is losing talented players.
Those who return home are courted by clubs in the League of Ireland but with money running short in the domestic game and short-term contracts now the norm, players' heads are being turned by other sports.
The association yesterday launched the Airtricity U-19s league with the dual intention of providing an elite competition for youngsters who have stayed in Ireland and an incentive to keep returning professionals in the game at home.
"We know that we lost a lot of players to the GAA because we did not have an elite structure when they came back from England," said Koevermans. "We have names and we can see how many players went back to Gaelic football.
"Now if you come back from England, there is a competition for you to play in. Now if they come back we can say, 'listen, you can play in the U-19 league, and you can still go back into the game and become a professional player in Ireland'.
"And that helps the game to grow so I think it is very important. When this is successful, we need an U-17 league."
Ireland's three biggest sports are in a constant battle for the hearts and minds of young players and, in turn, the GAA are wary of losing players to rugby.
Koevermans has been working with the FAI since 2008 and although his contract is due for renewal next September, he wants to carry on his work in Irish football.
"Yes, I would like to continue," he said. "It would be great. These are processes that never stop, so it would be great to be involved."