Monday 23 October 2017

'I hate when people say we're going backwards and not producing players' - Stephen McPhail on Irish youth system

29 August 2016; Stephen McPhail of Shamrock Rovers at a media event in the AUL Complex, Clonshaugh, Co. Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
29 August 2016; Stephen McPhail of Shamrock Rovers at a media event in the AUL Complex, Clonshaugh, Co. Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Conor Neville

Shamrock Rover Sporting Director Stephen McPhail doesn't accept the negativity surrounding Irish football's long-term prospects.

Journalists and fact-finders who delve into Ireland's long-term development prospects tend to conclude their studies in a state of near depression.

McPhail is confident that Ireland will continue to produce players, provided, of course, that they can establish a structure which allows teenagers to progress their game in Ireland and remain in this country longer.

Having toured several academies in England and the continent, he says the calibre of players he sees at very young ages at Rovers is comparable to the best academies around. 

"Listen, I hate when people say we're going backwards or we're not producing players. We will. We'll always produce players. This country is renowned for producing good players," McPhail told LOI Weekly.

"Young players in this country have got the hunger. Over the last six months since I've got the job, I've been in eight, nine, ten academies all around the world, trying to see what they're doing and trying to get ideas for our set-up."

"I went to quite a few (academies) in England. I've obviously been to Leeds, I went to Sunderland. Recently, I went to Genk out in Belgium which was really interesting. They do a different kind of training to most. It was just trying to pick up ideas."

"But I come back to our academy and I see the same stuff, the same calibre of players. In the younger ages from 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, that age group is still fine. We're well on a par, we'll compete."

He agrees that the Irish system begins to lose these players in their early teens but says that they're working on addressing this problem.

"That 12, 13, 14 [age range] we miss out. We don't get them as much as other countries do. We're trying to change that. We're trying to tap into schools. We're trying to get day releases like they do in England.

"We can't get carried away, we are where we are in the chain. But we need to keep developing our kids. We'll produce players if we do things right. You just need the opportunity for them to progress in this country first and foremost. And if we can keep our best players until they're 17 and 18, that's better than 14 for me."

McPhail finished his playing career at Shamrock Rovers last season and less than a fortnight later stepped upstairs to become the Sporting Director, a role not too dissimilar to the Director of Football position. With Damien Duff in a front-line coaching role, it is reminiscent of Rovers in the 1970's, when former internationals attempted to build a club capable of competing in Europe.

Rather wisely, the folk involved are a bit less bullish about their project this time around, but McPhail is nevertheless enthusiastic about the potential of the club going forward. 

"I go to these places, the likes of Genk. What they've done and what they've achieved. Seven or eight years ago they are where we are now and now they're selling players out of their academy for 14-15 million. It's doable if you're willing to put the hard work in and try and think about what you're doing." 

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