McGuinness calls for action to avoid returning players slipping through net
With the League of Ireland in hibernation, the winter training camp run by PFA Ireland has become a regular fixture on the calendar for out-of-work players.
It is clear, however, that it has the ability to become more important than that. The presence of Cody Mulhall at training in Abbotstown yesterday is a case in point.
The Athy native is building his fitness alongside experienced players such as Gavin Peers, Tim Clancy, Mark Quigley and Keith Ward, who should have no problem picking up a side for next season but are keeping their options open.
They could well be a part of Aidan Price's squad for next month's FIFPRO tournament in Norway, which brings together unemployed footballers from four countries.
Mulhall will not be participating, however, as he is on the comeback trail from the devastation of a second cruciate ligament injury. A quiet Monday morning in the National Training Centre was a big deal for him as he came through a first session in eight months.
His story is laced with bad luck. Mulhall was recruited to Hibernian from Stella Maris by Pat Fenlon. A week ahead of his scheduled first-team debut against Hearts, he snapped his cruciate in an U-20 match, spent a year injured and was released by a new regime.
When that happened, Fenlon invited him to get fit with Shamrock Rovers, and news of his well-being spread, with Paul Cook offering a training stint at Chesterfield that was set to lead to a permanent deal. Then, in training with Rovers, disaster struck as the other cruciate went. Mulhall knew straight away.
"Before the MRI came back, I was prepared for another year out," he admits.
He has been working with the physio at Rovers, Tony McCarthy, who informed PFAI chief Stephen McGuinness of his availability and that has opened the door for his involvement in a programme which involves three training sessions a week.
What bugs McGuinness is that there isn't a centralised database for players released by clubs in UK who slip from sight if they don't happen to know anybody at home.
"If I didn't have Pat (Fenlon) then I would have come home and I'm not sure what I would have done because I don't have an agent," admits Mulhall. "Thankfully Pat has helped me back on my feet."
The FAI did previously have Terry Conroy and Eoin Hand employed in roles which involved liaising with youngsters across the water, but McGuinness has found it hard to get information on unsuccessful exports.
"If you ask somebody in the FAI 'how many players do we have in England?' I'd say they would struggle to tell you," he claims.
"Nobody seems to know what is going on with them. When they come back, who is making contact with them? It's old stuff but why don't we have career guidance and sports psychologists working with them to get back playing?"
McGuinness would like to run a similar camp in the summer, even if there's no competition at the end of it, as the crossover of English and Irish seasons makes it difficult for players to get sorted with Airtricity League clubs midway through the campaign.
Hence, the situation where the likes of Richie Towell and Brandon Miele ended up lining out for Bluebell United.
There is goodwill from high. Roy Keane has offered to come in and speak with Price's group in the coming weeks. Mulhall has already spoken to him; the Irish assistant manager called the player for a surprise pep talk after his first cruciate.
"I didn't believe it was him at first," Mulhall smiles. "He just told me to keep working hard, that I was young and a lot of players have done it (cruciate) and gone on to play at the top level in England."
That remains Mulhall's ambitions and he is grateful for the connections that have kept him in the picture.
Meanwhile, ex-Irish international Colin Healy has signed on for another season with Cork City, but Ross Gaynor is on the look out for a new club.
Dundalk are on the verge of announcing the signing of UCD's Robbie Benson.