FAI prioritise youth funding in League of Ireland investment
League of Ireland chief Fran Gavin feels the FAI are making the right call by putting €250,000 into youth development instead of increasing senior prize money levels.
At the launch of the new SSE Airtricity League season at the Aviva Stadium, the big announcement from the top table was that the FAI would be directing funds to help clubs with the cost of running their teams in the new national underage leagues.
Those leagues remain a thorny issue in the broader Irish football community, with leading schoolboy clubs unhappy at their exclusion and at the loss of players to League of Ireland sides - particularly for the new U-15 league and the forthcoming U-13 version.
And unhappiness is growing over a change to the summer transfer window which means the senior clubs can sign players for their underage sides in July - but the window enabling schoolboy clubs to sign replacements has been closed.
The FAI are determined to make their new leagues work, however, and have chosen to direct funds there instead of raising the modest levels of prize money available to senior clubs for results on the pitch which are a bone of contention.
"We've been talking to the clubs and the point they did make is that there is a cost to the underage leagues," said Gavin. "We want to develop and they want to develop the youth section so we agreed to put in €250,000 added to the Uefa solidarity funding for youth which was €825,000 last year. Also, we have travel grants which are still in there.
"We realise we're putting a lot of demands on them from the association and they need support."
Gavin said that for the first year, the funds would be shared equally out amongst the competing clubs but that could be spread out on a tiered basis in subsequent years. He said that the monies will all be tracked.
"We can see where it's used because in their budgets there are lines for youth development and underage sections," he said. "We did a recent exercise with all the clubs where we asked them to tell us the cost of each of their teams in the U-17, U-19 and U-15 and that came out to about €1.4m collectively.
"It was a good exercise and (with UEFA money included) we're trying to put in €1.15m so there's still a gap there and we'll try and bridge that gap over the next few years."
Gavin referenced a forthcoming rise in European prize money as justification for keeping senior rewards at that level, although in recent years the bloated UEFA funds have largely gone to the same clubs.
This year's four European representatives were also the Irish qualifiers for 2017 and the only change is that Cork City will be in the Champions League this time around with Dundalk in the Europa League along with Shamrock Rovers and Derry City.
Dundalk are competing in European competition for the fifth season on the trot, with Cork having a fourth successive crack. Gavin expects that Cork will earn a minimum of €800,000 from the Champions League route this year, and Europa League money is expecting to rise from a minimum of €215,000.
That money does not trickle down to sides outside of the top four, although representatives from the leading clubs all insisted that they expect a more open race for the podium positions this season.
Dundalk, Cork and Shamrock Rovers have started to hand out two- to three-year 52-week contracts and Gavin hailed those moves as 'good signs of stability.'
Ahead of Friday's kick-off, Dundalk have moved to strengthen their squad by signing ex-Liverpool and Birmingham defender Dan Cleary. The 21-year-old Dubliner had been on trial with Shamrock Rovers earlier in pre-season.