Sunday 20 January 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Niall Quinn may not have all the right answers but it's significant he is asking the questions'

Niall Quinn: Approach is in contrast to slow pace of change in Abbotstown. Photo: Colin Keegan
Niall Quinn: Approach is in contrast to slow pace of change in Abbotstown. Photo: Colin Keegan
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"It might be mad," said Niall Quinn at one point yesterday as he discussed his vision for a new League of Ireland future shaped around government investment in academies.

"And I'm possibly not the person to deliver it. But I'm certainly the person to ask the question now."

This, in many ways, was the most relevant line of the former Ireland striker's lengthy discussion with newspaper journalists about a vision he had briefly outlined on the 'Marian Finucane Show'.

Some of the details are vague; others would appear to be overly ambitious.

The concept of tax breaks thrashed out as part of a state deal with multi-national companies would be a hard sell under a number of headings; especially when there is no guarantee of any return in the immediate future.

In tandem with the construction of academies, Quinn wants to bring foreign players to Ireland - ultimately with the intention of selling them on further down the line.

He even mentioned the prospect of bringing Brazilians in with a view to exploiting residency rules and making them national team options.

Officials involved with Irish clubs will tell you there is no shortage of overseas players that are curious about coming to these shores - but finding the right one is a different matter altogether.

Meanwhile, references to the sale of TV rights and the growth of a league to compare with developments with Australia and America can easily be challenged under headings such as population and infrastructure for starters.

In saying that, it would be unwise to dismiss Quinn simply because a couple of his ideas seem far-fetched.

Nor is it helpful for League of Ireland fans to dismiss the Dubliner because he's not a regular presence at grounds here.

If there were hardcore fans of the league with the contacts to get things done, you'd like to think they would have made themselves known by now.

The key to a better future is finding the right people from outside to invest and believe in the product here; it's commonly accepted that control over youth development is required and that needs to be funded.

Quinn's way might not be the cure to all ills, yet it's significant that he has started to make noises and is networking with a view to constructing a plan.

Leading FAI officials are known to be a tad uneasy about the airtime that Quinn is getting to outline the desire for radical change.

Contrast that bigger-picture talk with the painfully slow pace of change in Abbotstown; the FAI are prepared to cede control of the League of Ireland after a dozen years where they have struggled to solve basic problems.

They will argue that club licensing has led to improved governance of clubs - with some notable exceptions of course - and stress that the ship is steadier now.

But there's still an absence of clear direction in terms of where the league will be ten years from now.

A new season is around the corner and a lot of the broader questions related to facilities, attendances and marketing could be cut and pasted from two decades ago and applied to today. It's still the same old faces making the big decisions too.

Quinn is seeking to bring new people into the arena and, as an ex-international and household name, his willingness to instigate a debate should be welcomed. It should embolden others.

He might have his own motivations for that, but it's still a more worthy contribution to the game than falling in line as an FAI ambassador who turns up a few times per year to cut some tape, pose for a few photos and prop up the status quo.

Interesting times lie ahead.

Irish Independent

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