Sunday 17 December 2017

Talking point: Opposition from various factions was inevitable as U-15 farce causes rift in football family

FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

John Fallon

If it wasn't bad enough for John Delaney's problem child to be on the offensive, then come along the irate infants intent on plummeting the football family into a feuding one.

World Cup qualification and the FAI's finances have taken a back seat over the past week in subservience to a topic many predicted to cause friction at the dining table and so it has proved.

The announcement by the association at lunchtime yesterday of their inaugural Under-15 national league was notable for one inclusion amongst the 24 teams, a club known as much for their outspoken nature as producing some of the country's finest talent in Liam and Robbie Brady.

St Kevin's Boys from Santry in Dublin are that club and for the past week they've been the talk of Irish football for different reasons.

As the international schedule breaks for the summer and all eyes turn to Kilkenny in three weeks for the FAI's annual general meeting sure to feature classic self-indulgence, the emergence of the Tangerine-clad tigers to the forefront of the news has caused rancour equally amongst their peers as the League of Ireland sphere they'll soon inhabit.

Last night, concerned factions on both sides gathered to consider a unified response. Schoolboy clubs feel they were led astray by those in power while the senior soldiers are similarly slighted at now having the market leader in a competition they thought was theirs alone.

Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic lead the outrage, appalled at having a surprise rival retaining and recruiting from the pool of teens for the debut season beginning in August.

Both their benefactors, Ray Wilson and Garrett Kelleher respectively, have earmarked a sizeable portion of their budgets towards appointing staff and the barriers to entry have seemingly been altered.

Where it came from and why the selection criteria was settled upon from the outset is where the root of the problem rests.

Ruud Dokter may have been presented as the saviour for the future of Irish football when his appointment to the high performance director's role coincided with another failed World Cup qualification bid in 2013, but the Saintly scholars of Shanowen Road weren't on message.

The two brainchildren of the Dutchmen - switching schoolboy football to a summer season and bequeathing sole responsibility for elite underage development to League of Ireland clubs - were emphatically rejected.

That they could point to Brady, Jeff Hendrick and an emerging Jack Byrne around the Ireland squad showed St Kevin's were speaking with authority.

As was the case with the new national U-17 league two years ago, they were encouraged by the FAI to apply, yet cautioned on the absence of a League of Ireland partner depleting their prospects.

Chief executive John Delaney branded it the "hybrid" model. The same warning was issued to the other established schoolboy clubs.

Once they were all duly omitted, focus turned to the next increment of the FAI evolution and the soundings were ominous.

"We need a pathway from underage to the first team and League of Ireland clubs can provide that," said Dokter. "The U-19 and U-17 leagues have been very successful and the next step is the U-15s."

Working on that basis, the staples of the Dublin schoolboy scene reluctantly rowed in for fear of being annexed.

Home Farm threw their lot in with Drogheda United while St Pat's chose a different approach, taking Belvedere, Crumlin United and, most recently Cherry Orchard under their umbrella. Rovers linked up with Corduff and the Kildare Underage league.

Most of those clubs still applied as a standalone outfit before the deadline passed and, belatedly nine months later, received an acknowledgement and rejection in the same letter yesterday.

That's something they may have stomached had consistency prevailed, only for the worst-kept secret of the week to gain credence hours later with confirmation of St Kevin's making the cut.

They did so, insists the FAI statement, on the understanding their talks with Bohemians yield a successful outcome by the time the first full season, in March 2018, gets under way.

Dokter yesterday declined to mothball the possibility of St Kevin's sticking around for the 2018 season and who would stop them were they to make a further mockery of the entire saga by winning the maiden title.

Judging by the reaction to yesterday's events, it is the start - rather than the end - of the season the FAI should be getting to grips with.

Irish Independent

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