Saturday 16 December 2017

Outside the Box: New youth league poses familiar issues

The DDSL squad celebrate after winning the 2013 Kennedy Cup in Limerick (Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE)
The DDSL squad celebrate after winning the 2013 Kennedy Cup in Limerick (Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE)
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Question: What's the link between all bar three of the clubs in one of the country's elite schoolboy leagues at U-16s level, every team in the equivalent U-15s league and every one of the clubs who are playing in All-Ireland finals from U-12s upwards?

Answer: Not one of them will be appearing in next season's Elite National U-17s league.

Friday afternoon is often a good time to send news that will cause consternation to its recipients and so it was last Friday that an email arrived into the inboxes of clubs from the FAI to inform them that their expressions of interest in next season's elite national U-17s league had been unsuccessful.

The clubs had been invited to present their case earlier in the year and were told that they would have an answer at the end of March, then the end of April and, finally, in mid-May they were put out of their misery - but plunged from misery into anger.

Of the 22 teams chosen to take part in the competition which starts this August, 19 of them are League of Ireland clubs. The other three, in part at least, are former League of Ireland clubs.

In theory, this makes sense. A child can start with one of these 22 clubs, progress through the ranks and have a clear pathway - a word that is mentioned frequently - onto a national platform, then onto an U-19s league and then into senior football. But then, there are many things that make sense in theory.


In practice, what has happened throughout the years, particularly in Dublin, is that schoolboy clubs have produced the best players. The cream of the crop head for England or Scotland in their mid-teens, the next best try to make their way in the League of Ireland and the others, hopefully, stay on at whatever level in junior or intermediate football.

In Ireland, there has always been a chasm between how a player moves from the end of their schoolboy career towards senior football but, for the next few seasons at least, the only thing the new league has done is reverse the process.

Instead of having elite schoolboy clubs with no senior team, there will be senior teams without an elite schoolboy section.

The email sent to clubs stated that: "The working group has reviewed aspects such as facilities, coaching qualifications and in particular player pathway, with an emphasis on providing a pathway for elite players from schoolboy to senior football."

Those within schoolboy football, quite understandably, are wondering that if the most crucial factor was having direct access to senior football, what was the point in asking them to make any expression of interest?

The email concludes with a well-meaning but rather patronising line: "We would encourage your club to continue the excellent work that you are doing to develop underage football."

The compensation to which clubs are entitled has also been reduced but still stands at around €1,500 if the player has been with the club from the season of their 12th birthday to the 16th.

It was also agreed that, if a player is transferred between Associations (ie goes to England) within the first year, the training club will be entitled to 60pc of the transfer fee. Given how tight cash-flow is at many League of Ireland clubs, it'll be interesting to see how strictly these new edicts are enforced.

Even if they do, it's still likely to be cheaper than setting up and developing a full academy of players with only a fraction of them being useful to their senior team in a decade's time. And the idea that coaching is automatically better where there is a senior club than it is in the schoolboys ranks is, frankly, ludicrous.

In these pages some weeks ago, there was the story of Richie Towell and Conor Clifford who, 10 years ago were with Crumlin's U-13s and went abroad at 16. Yesterday, Crumlin's senior team won the FAI Intermediate Cup final at the Aviva Stadium against Tolka Rovers - another club whose schoolboy section is traditionally strong.

Crumlin, for example, might not have senior football but, for the best part of the last decade, their adult team could certainly have held their own at First Division level in the League of Ireland.

Every year, St Kevin's hold the Academy Cup at Easter with facilities that, this year, were able to host Celtic, West Brom, Arsenal, Deportivo and Benfica.

The coaching qualifications at the club are such that they have a current or former player at every representative level up to senior and, if the players aren't quite good enough or don't develop soon enough to go abroad or to the League of Ireland, they have a fine junior team where players can continue to play. Again, it wasn't enough to get into the U-17 league.

The St Kevin's U-16s team are currently top of what is generally recognised as the best league in the country at their age-group without having lost a game. Behind them are Belvedere and Cherry Orchard, with Shelbourne - who to their credit have made a good effort at producing schoolboy players - sitting in fourth.

Cabinteely and Shamrock Rovers are also in that division but not threatening the lead, St Pat's and Drogheda boys are in the division below. Bray and Bohemians don't compete in the league, while UCD, who will be in next year's U-17s league, don't currently have a schoolboys set up.

This isn't to criticise the players or the coaches and volunteers who give their time at these clubs but, if Ruud Dokter's assertion that "the best should play with the best" were to be held up to scrutiny at U-16s level, it seems odd that, next season, the teams who are currently the best won't be represented at U-17s.

Two years ago, the Dublin District Schoolboys League won the Kennedy Cup U-14 competition without conceding a goal and it is this crop of players who, by August, will be the first group heading for the Elite U-17s league. Even if none of the clubs who produced these players will be in it.

Not much changed in the last two years and the DDSL will be looking for their fourth consecutive title when the competition starts in Limerick next month. On the sidelines, packed full of scouts looking to nab another player produced by these clubs, there will only be one topic for discussion.

Bet you should have done

Crystal Palace to beat Liverpool, 17/2

Liverpool's recent form has been mediocre, with defeats to Manchester United, Arsenal and Hull as well as an FA Cup semi-final loss to Aston Villa.

In contrast, Crystal Palace have been superb since Alan Pardew arrived and given that they have scored six goals in the last two games against Liverpool, they weren't likely to hold any fear.

That average goal number continued during what was a comfortable victory to ruin Gerrard and Liverpool's day.

Tweets of the week


Bafétimbi Gomis (@BafGomis)

Important win , it was a close game ! I m happy I was able to score the game winning goal to help my team to get the 3 points .I AM JACK...

- The Swansea striker celebrates his winning goal against Arsenal. Having been baffled the last time he called himself Jack, we now know that "Jack" refers to a Swansea person.


Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton)

Another piece of clueless journalism circulating this morning regarding me and QPR. ... For the record, I don't believe Vargas, Isla, Zarate, Taarabt or Traore are responsible for QPR's relegation. .. Interesting that this story was 'revealed' to this journalist. Easy to blame those not in a strong enough position to affect the group.

- The QPR midfielder's Twitter sabbatical seems like such a long time ago.


Jerome Boateng (@JB17Official)

Thanks for your support tonight!!! Congratulations to @FCBarcelona! Good luck in the final!

- A Premier League player would be slaughtered for being so magnanimous. What's the German for disgrace?


Alan Shearer (@alanshearer)

- Be warned. Any abuse and I'll come round and give you Newcastle tickets!

The Premier League's highest ever scorer joins Twitter with a serious warning, even though it's unlikely to prevent friendly 'banter'.


Patrick Bamford (@Patrick_Bamford)

- Boring boring Boro great performance from the lads! Wembley here we come #UTB

The Middlesbrough striker, on loan from Chelsea, hears the boring accusations on all sides. Although neither is particularly accurate.


Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9)

Thank you, legend for all you made me live in Anfield and for all the joy you have given to the football world. Thank you my friend for everything. You are truly one of the greatest!

- As Steven Gerrard retires, it's hard to imagine the Barca man being so gushing about any of his other former team-mates.


Thomas Sorensen (@TSorensen1)

You have got to drink and eat while cycling 136km done this morning in 5hrs10min #kidsaidacrossamerica

- Stoke keeper has been putting in impressive minutes for charity if not so much on the pitch.

The question nobody asked

How many games have the rest of the top four lost since Chelsea were last beaten?

Jose Mourinho's champions go into tonight's game against West Brom on the back of a 16-game unbeaten run in the Premier League which, given the way they started the season, is pretty impressive.

The last game they lost against an English club was against Bradford City in the FA Cup, while their last Premier League loss came against Tottenham on New Year's Day - a 5-3 defeat which heralded a defensive shut-down and relentless march to the title.

In terms of defeats, Arsenal have been closest to them of their top-four rivals, with last Monday's loss to Swansea just their second after the New Year's Day defeat against Southampton.

Manchester City are in second but have lost five times this year, while Manchester United have also lost five times since Chelsea's last defeat, including a recent run of three consecutive losses.

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