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Niall Quinn throws olive branch to schoolboy clubs over underage national leagues row

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Niall Quinn. Photo: Sportsfile

Niall Quinn. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Niall Quinn. Photo: Sportsfile

Niall Quinn has offered an olive branch to aggrieved schoolboy clubs by admitting they were shabbily treated by the FAI over the underage national leagues.

A deep divide has developed following an FAI policy to exclude the established clubs that produced the likes of Troy Parrott, Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah from entering the U-13 and U-15 leagues.

A growing list of schoolboy clubs have urged the new FAI board members to scrap the U-13 experiment after just one season, citing child welfare issues.

Specifically, the group from across the country argue that the national league is having a detrimental effect on player development and dismantling the very system producing the new waves of gems.

The FAI applied the same selection criteria for entry to their inaugural U-13 league as for the U-15 and U-17 versions – that only League of Ireland clubs or counties without one could participate.

Kildare, Cavan/Monaghan, Mayo and Kerry representative squads were added to the 20 league clubs to complete the league structure.

Concerns about this venture being too much, too early have surfaced since the first season concluded in September.

If the planned campaign proceeds next month, it is thought to be the final version in its current format. A new U-14 league could replace it from 2021.

Quinn, recruited as the FAI's deputy chief executive last month, has been taking soundings from various parties on the matter and raised their plight in a public setting last night.

The former Ireland striker was the special guest at the season ticket launch of Galway United ahead of their First Division campaign kicking off tomorrow week.

"We're trying to get it right in there," said the ex-Sunderland Chairman.

"We're going to do a lot of consultation with League of Ireland clubs and speaking to other parts of that connection because we think the transition from schoolboys' clubs to the U-13 national league was not done brilliantly. It was not a perfect process in our eyes."

Ollie Daniels of famous Galway club Salthill Devon, along with former Galway United manager Tony Mannion, is calling on the FAI to see sense.

"The FAI has embarked on a policy where the children must match the structure rather than the structure matching the needs of the children," said Daniels.

"Children are not the property of coaches, clubs or leagues and should not be subjected to selection, deselection, being discarded and discriminated against at such a young age.

"National League clubs are recruiting children at 12 years. They are mostly using trials to decide whether kids are good enough to make a squad of 20.

"Late developers get discriminated against. We've seen how the likes of Robbie Keane and Roy Keane only maximised their potential after they became physically stronger in their late teens.

"The vast majority of the 480 players recruited are released at the end of the season. The transition from Under-13 to Under-15 is all but impossible.

"A schoolboy club losing three to five players from a team impacts the remaining players, often creating disillusionment. That leads to the loss of players to other sports."

During his visit to Galway, Quinn also touched on the contentious issue of club licensing.

He insists the independent licensing committee imposed strict conditions on clubs before issuing all 20 applicants with clearances last night.

They included two licenses for Shamrock Rovers, including a new one allowing a reserve team to participate in the First Division.

Rovers will take the place in the 10-team division of Limerick, who didn't apply for a license due to financial pressures, but the existing clubs are opposed to the Rovers project.

Talk of legal action and fixture boycotts has been floated but Quinn is pleading with the First Division clubs to allow the games begin tomorrow week.

"The new interim chief executive Gary Owens and myself came into a storm with Shamrock Rovers B," said Quinn.

"When we got legal advice, they said there were no gaps in any stage of the process. I understand clubs had issues with the process and there's pain there but we can revisit that in the future.

"I can't force the other teams to play against Rovers but if the clubs go legal, football comes to the standstill.

"We've raised the standards this year, trying to avoid scenarios like we had last year with Limerick.

"We're genuinely looking to put the 20 clubs top of our priority list.

"During the recent negotiations with the Government, UEFA and the Bank of Ireland, when we were writing the terms of the deal, it was obvious that a strong League of Ireland would help the game.

"I've asked prominent people in the League what the monetary value is of the League of Ireland and nobody could answer. We're trying to make up for the mistakes of the past.

"In a financially stressed situation, handing out money out is not an option but we can help bring investment into the clubs."

Online Editors