Saturday 17 March 2018

McPhail fears for next generation of Irish players

McPhail admits that he is still getting used to the senior football environment in Ireland. Picture credit: Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE
McPhail admits that he is still getting used to the senior football environment in Ireland. Picture credit: Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Stephen McPhail says that he shares the concerns expressed by former international team-mate Graham Barrett about the pace of development of young Irish footballers relative to their counterparts across the water.

Barrett published a lengthy essay last weekend detailing his grievances about the production of players on these shores, arguing that talented British youngsters are getting far more hours on the training ground under the tutelage of top coaches from the age of eight.

Shamrock Rovers midfielder McPhail, who has also helped out with coaching the Hoops' U-17 side, can see where Barrett is coming from. He welcomes the FAI's establishment of a national league at that level but thinks the work needs to start earlier in young players' football education if they are to keep up with the standards in other countries.

"Graham is spot on," he said. "The number of hours our young boys get coached is way down on everywhere else.

"With regard to game understanding, I am sure they will be behind. They have the ability.

"The lads on our U-17 team have unbelievable ability. But getting awareness and game understanding, being coached properly and having a professional set-up - it's not there.

"That's just bound to happen because of the hours, so you cannot point fingers at them. We are going to have to look at the whole structure of the clubs.

"What they are getting in England, they get it younger compared to here so it's about sticking with them and raising their standards."

McPhail, who turned 36 last September, admits that he is still getting used to the senior football environment in Ireland, having left here in his mid-teens.

He contemplated retirement but opted to stay on for another season at Rovers, even though his pal Damien Duff opted to call it quits due to fitness problems.

With Liam Miller departing Cork for America after just one campaign, McPhail can understand why players who have sampled life at the top table find it a culture shock to come home.

"It's different, totally different. I'm home two years last week and I feel more comfortable now than I did 12 months ago," said McPhail, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring strain he sustained in the pre-season tour of India.

"My head was a bit all over the place having been away for 20 years, coming home to everything both on and off the pitch.

"It's just difficult. It's different and, obviously, the money is not there, the facilities are not there.

"I would be standing here lying to you if I said it was the same. It takes time to adjust but I've definitely got my head around it now.

"It's just the everyday stuff, the training. When I started here and Trevor Croly was the manager we were training in the afternoons, night times.

"Now Pat (Fenlon) has really brought everything up to standard to where I was used to before. We train in the mornings, train hard and do double sessions. Everything is up to a level that I was used to so that helps."

Meanwhile, Rovers sources have emphatically dismissed UK reports linking them with a partnership with West Ham.

Irish Independent

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