FAI confirm St Kevin's presence will be one-off without league club partnership
A dark cloud hung over yesterday's launch of the U-15 national league season but League of Ireland clubs are at least relieved to have resolved the debacle surrounding St Kevin's Boys.
The famous Dublin nursery, which helped produce Liam Brady and Damien Duff, were the only schoolboy club successful in joining the inaugural venture which kicks off this weekend.
Some of their rivals who also applied before last October's deadline didn't even receive an acknowledgement until July 3, the unveiling day of the 24 entrants.
The inclusion of St Kevin's provoked anger amongst both the League of Ireland and schoolboy fraternities who believed the selection criteria debarred them.
The FAI's league director Fran Gavin and high performance director Ruud Dokter had each urged the established underage clubs, historically responsible for nurturing talent in this country, to form partnerships with national league clubs. Several did just that, including Home Farm, Cherry Orchard, Crumlin United, Belvedere, Corduff and Malahide United, but the failure of St Kevin's to secure a deal turned out to be immaterial as they were allowed to enter under their own name.
Discontent duly ensued, with a cohort of schoolboy clubs issuing legal correspondence to the FAI and League of Ireland outfits conveying their displeasure to the governing body in strong terms.
Disgruntled That the FAI insisted St Kevin's were admitted on the basis of ongoing negotiations with Bohemians about joining forces didn't assuage the disgruntled sections, as didn't the refusal of Gavin and Dokter to publicly rule out the Saints continuing their membership into the longer, full season in 2018. "The league will be reviewed at the end of the season," said Gavin three weeks ago.
After concerted pressure, however, including a possible boycotting of fixtures against St Kevin's Boys, a meeting just 24 hours before yesterday's launch resulted in a significant victory for the Premier Clubs Alliance (PCA).
An initial verbal assurance of this allowance for St Kevin's, or any other schoolboy outfit, being a one-off was followed by a letter requested from Gavin. An FAI spokesman said last night: "From the 2018 season, schoolboy club participation in any underage national league competition will be reliant upon a partnership with a National League club."
Vitally, from the League of Ireland standpoint, this policy applies for the new U-13 national league, which chief executive John Delaney revealed at last month's AGM is set for March 2019.
St Kevin's, along with 19 of the other clubs, weren't at yesterday's launch. Duff, now manager of the Shamrock Rovers U-15 team, was present but unavailable to media.