Tuesday 25 September 2018

Emergence of options from capital is timely as Ireland under-17s bid to keep Euro dream alive

Troy Parrott is among the leading lights in Colin O’Brien’s U-17 team who face Denmark today. Photo: Sportsfile
Troy Parrott is among the leading lights in Colin O’Brien’s U-17 team who face Denmark today. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's a big day for the Ireland U-17 side as they attempt to keep their European Championships campaign alive and, by extension, their early afternoon clash with Denmark is a significant fixture for youth football in Dublin too.

That's because there is a capital influence in Colin O'Brien's group that has been lacking in older age groups and at Irish senior level.

The Dublin contingent in Martin O'Neill's dressing-room is dwindling with Wes Hoolahan's departure from the scene confirmed and Glenn Whelan's days numbered too.

Cork accents outnumbered Dubs for the trip to Turkey in March, with Jeff Hendrick the only established squad member from our biggest city.

Matt Doherty won his first cap, while Alan Judge picked up a second and Enda Stevens didn't get off the bench on the occasion of his first call-up.

Robbie Brady and Stephen Ward should return to be a part of the Euro 2020 tilt, but the profile of the dressing-room is different from the days when Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Damien Duff were the leading lights. There's a north-west flavour now with Seamus Coleman and Derry duo Shane Duffy and James McClean.

Change

With just two Dubliners featuring in Noel King's most recent U-21 squad, it's a change from the way things used to be.

There are theories that could be put forward to explain the state of play. The success of Dublin GAA, which is particularly well organised at underage level, is one. Then there's the simple fact that the profile of the city has changed and there are a lot of Dubliners that have moved out to commuter towns; their offspring are still part of the underage football scene in the city where clubs have traditionally recruited heavily from surrounding counties.

Liverpool's Conor Masterson has been described as a Dubliner in several places, but he has been claimed by Kildare given that he grew up in Celbridge - much as his main football association is with Lucan United.

Others would argue that it's just a cyclical process. Dublin clubs continue to produce good players, but a generation has passed without the production of great ones. It happens.

They could do with a decent crop because of the changing picture of schoolboy football in Ireland. It's the Dublin nurseries that have been the most put out by the introduction of new underage national leagues which have given control to League of Ireland clubs from U-15 level upwards - and an U-13 league is on the way.

Partnerships have been struck, but the likes of St Kevin's Boys, Belvedere and Cherry Orchard felt they had no alternative. The work they do is invaluable, but the debate about changing the underage picture here stemmed from concerns about the production line.

While the FAI's chosen solution has proved divisive, the leading Dublin and District Schoolboy League (DDSL) clubs needed to provide evidence they are still doing the business.

That's why they have a vested interest in O'Brien's U-17 group, because they have been the driving force in their progression. Their performances in qualifying generated a buzz; they breezed through the two phases of qualifying with a perfect record.

When the FAI eventually released the final squad 24 hours before Saturday's kick-off against Belgium, there was a line added to each player's pen picture which detailed the Emerging Talent Centre where the youngster had trained on his way up the ranks.

The reality is that players spent more time under the tutelage of experienced coaches at their schoolboy clubs than they did at the FAI's regional bases.

Ten of O'Brien's squad are Dubliners and Leixlip's Nathan Collins learned the game at Cherry Orchard and is part of a well-known Dublin football family - his father David and uncle Eamonn (who is better known as an agent these days) were footballers who captained Ireland at youth level under Liam Tuohy.

The 6ft 4in Stoke defender is one of the names to watch from the group that was disappointed to lose 2-0 to Belgium.

Expectation can be unfair at this level, but seasoned observers feel this is a talented group. Cork's Adam Idah is a striker of real promise, and there are also high hopes for inner-city Dubliner Troy Parrott who is now racking up the goals for Spurs youths.

He's ex-Belvedere and so is Southampton's Sean Brennan, another squad member with a good pedigree as his father Anto played with Huddersfield. .

Midfielder Jason Knight from Loughlinstown is trying to follow the Hendrick route by making the grade at Derby.

These are just some of the players that O'Brien will be relying upon as Ireland seek to stay in the competition. The dressing-room has a homegrown profile with just one overseas-born player in the panel, a contrast from the breakdown at U-21 and senior level.

Ireland cannot rely on other jurisdictions to do the hard work for them. There is encouragement to be taken from the regional spread of players available to O'Neill, but it's hard to see a bright future without a strong supply of options from Dublin. Win or lose today, it will be interesting to see where these boys go from here.

Irish Independent

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