Sunday 17 December 2017

Time for FAI to make the most of their real assets

Carsley dithered over accepting the English offer but eventually said yes because he had no reason to believe that the FAI would be dialling his number
Carsley dithered over accepting the English offer but eventually said yes because he had no reason to believe that the FAI would be dialling his number
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Lee Carsley was placed in charge of Brentford last week, a development which slipped under the radar on the day that Jack Grealish's big decision grabbed the headlines.

It was the second time in the space of a month that a Carsley tale was overshadowed by events elsewhere.

In a September international window dominated by Scottish woe and Grealish ruminations, his appointment to the coaching staff of the England U-19 team slipped by without too much comment.

At first glance, it doesn't sound like a story that should cause much of a ripple, yet it was a significant movement in the context of a glaring hole in the underage structure of Irish international football.

Carsley, who was capped 40 times for Ireland, had previously offered his services to the FAI as he was keen to further his coaching education by helping our elite young players.

But, as John Fallon pointed out in these pages, we remain in a situation where there are no former Irish senior internationals coaching or on the backroom staff of the U-17, U-19 and U-21 squads.


The FAI have made moves to fast-track some players' coaching education, with Robbie Keane among those benefiting from a combined UEFA 'A' and 'B' Licence Diploma Course.

This initiative came after Ireland's captain said he was disappointed at the shortage of ex-Irish players learning their coaching trade with the FAI's young representative teams - an issue he linked with the dearth of his fellow countrymen managing or employed as assistants in the club sphere across the water.

Carsley (below) dithered over accepting the English offer but eventually said yes because he had no reason to believe that the FAI would be dialling his number.

That a Championship side have now entrusted him with their main job would indicate he is well thought of within the game.

His old team-mate, Kevin Kilbane, had also spoken with FAI high performance director Ruud Dokter about getting on board but those discussions ultimately came to nothing.

It's believed that the FAI were looking at something similar to the ambassadorial roles that Kenny Cunningham and Mark Kinsella fulfilled in brief stints with the U-15 squad, where they impressed on the training ground.

Sadly, there is nothing permanent about the arrangement, with a casual helping hand on an ad-hoc basis falling short of showing a real commitment to integrating these characters into the tent.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the men who have pulled on the green jersey at the highest level will automatically prove to be excellent coaches.

Furthermore, the FAI have a host of well-qualified people who have spent their football life here. What's missing is a balance.

The FAI have just appointed a manager for our U-16 team, with St Patrick's Athletic legend Paul Osam landing the gig ahead of Ian Hill and Denis Hyland.

The role was advertised internally and what the three leading contenders have in common is that they are already working for the FAI as regional development officers.

Ostensibly, the brief of the RDOs entails growing the game in the community under headings such as promoting social inclusion, developing partnerships with local authorities and also helping out with Emerging Talent programmes.

However, a number of the RDOs are now effectively double- jobbing by taking up coaching roles with international age group sides.

Evidently, there are capable minds in that category who have a recognisable profile from competing at a high level domestically.

Former Finn Harps and Derry midfielder Tom Mohan, the U-17 boss, is another RDO and he brought his team to the European Championships earlier this year where they acquitted themselves extremely well.

Still, the clear advantage enjoyed by RDOs - some of whom have no previous experience of coaching or managing top-level teams even at schoolboys level - when it comes to these important roles is hardly ideal.

Top schoolboy coaches and ex-pros who've been there and done that should be in the picture too.

This is a vital area where the best coaches should be coaching the best players; every option should be explored. The current arrangement smacks of a closed shop.

You don't have to look too far for an effective example. Michael O'Neill's appointment as Northern Ireland manager has overlapped with his pal Jim Magilton taking over as elite performance director.

He duly recruited record scorer David Healy and his former defensive team-mate Stephen Craigan as part of a team that will guide their next wave of hopefuls.

One complication is that a lot of our high-profile stars tend to settle in England. But, at the moment, we have Damien Duff, Stephen McPhail, Liam Miller, Colin Healy and the now-retired Keith Fahey back in this neck of the woods.

It's a gilt-edged opportunity to invite them into the fold for more than a cameo visit.

Duff has shown an interest in the youth scene and is helping out with Rovers U-15 side as he studies for his coaching badges.

The presence of a man with a century of caps and his profile on their doorstep should be an absolute godsend.

McPhail is also working with the Rovers kids and, given that the Hoops pair know what it takes to hit the ground running in the UK, they'd be ideally placed to offer guidance to teenage prospects preparing to make the leap. The aforementioned names all had their own personal reasons for relocating to Ireland for a swansong; it's a happy coincidence rather than a trend.

If it became apparent that following the same path could be tied in with proper coaching experience at youth international level, then perhaps other senior pros approaching the final furlong will be drawn towards the old sod.

That would be a win-win scenario, a logical attempt to build a football family which keeps elite performers on the premises and helps the next generation. It is the definition of a no-brainer.

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