Irish Grassroots Football

The Real problem with Irish football…….. @MiguelDelaney

Miguel Delaney writes a great piece on the problems within Irish Youth Football and the disconnect between the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) and SFAI (Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland).

For anyone reading this from outside of Ireland, basically the SFAI run schoolboy football in our country and the Schoolboy clubs have more pull & power than League of Ireland clubs.

We have a completely disjointed pathway, yet still able to produce good players. Imagine what we could produce with a national pathway that everyones buys into!!! Iceland are an example of how it can be done with very small numbers.

*Headings (apart from the first one) are not part of the original article.

Miguel starts here:

Part One: Politics of failure

It was the moment when Wim Koevermans, the man that John Delaney had in 2009 described as the most important appointment in Irish football history, first wondered whether the job was worth the trouble.

In February 2010, the recently-installed FAI High Performance Director was at a meeting with the Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland to discuss the implementation of 51 recommendations from the 2009 underage review. Most of the items were “common-sense stuff” like small-sided and non-competitive games for children under 11. As one figure at the meeting explained about the benefit of such changes, “they’re the kind of the things the Spanish and Germans have been doing for years”.

The response to that from a senior SFAI official was alarming: “What the fuck would they know about Irish football?”
It could be argued that very quote reveals enough about Irish football, except for the merciful fact it is a single administrator. That obstinate resistance did ensure the guidelines were shelved, however, and that in itself points to a crux that has conditioned our game.

What we definitely do know about Irish football are a number of broad truths. If Germany have put in place the perfect football structure, Spain the finest coaching, and Belgium and Holland have found a way to apply both for smaller countries, Ireland still remain some way off such ideals.

“I’m here because I’ve come from a country with a big history in youth development. I’m not here to copy that system but I’m here to instil some principles of development, which are all over the world the same… you need to have a pyramid structure, one way or another”

One widely respected European official said in 2011 he’d “never seen a football structure as crazy” as in this country. That framework ensures we are still ultimately producing a competitive international team by accident rather than design, despite some admirable changes to coaching across the spectrum.

Quite simply, the current structure is not making efficient use of the talent that is there. Irish football remains hugely dependent on English clubs to finish the coaching of players older than 16, yet the statistics indicate fewer are going across than 15 years ago, and even fewer still to the top teams. That may well be down to fact so many of those top teams are now global super-clubs recruiting talent from all over the world, but that then raises the question of whether the mean standard of Irish player has risen at the same rate.

One university study indicated that, between the crucial formative ages of six and 16, central European players get an average of 14 times more touches than those from Ireland. Needless to say, that has a multiplying effect on fundamental technique, with the difference arguably seen at Euro 2012 and a number of recent squad call-ups. Research also indicates that a lack of playing time has led to a huge drop-off by the age of 11. These young players similarly suffer from a paucity of coaches consistently laying down modern training, given that there are estimated to be 10 times more coaches per player in the elite countries.

A current Premier League manager confided that most Irish underage players “struggle to adapt”. The worry, as a Uefa analyst put it when asked to survey Ireland in the context of continental football, is that the country is “not keeping up”.

“What matters at the moment is that there are better players coming from so many more countries than Ireland,” he said. “That must be tackled.”

No Structure

Alan Kinsella, who is seen as one of the most progressive underage coaches in the country and has recently moved from Templeogue United to Everton, echoes that concern.

“I have a fear we’re going to be left behind… the bottom line is our kids don’t get enough contact time with the ball.”
In theory, there should be no reason Irish football cannot do what Spain, Germany and so many other countries have done on our own scale. In theory, there is no reason Ireland cannot make the changes that see other countries talk about our technical ability in 10 years’ time the way they do about Belgium now. The question is whether that is actually possible in reality.

Many within Irish football insist that finally sorting out the sport’s infrastructure and youth production is now the single most important issue the FAI face.

At the least, it seems to be a view finally shared at the top of the association. The subject was the main item at a late 2013 board meeting, which was not the case at the previous eight. There is said to be a new will about the issue, and that many of the problems raised here are starting to be addressed.

That’s what the FAI maintain.

Almost four years on from that meeting that saw Koevermans get so frustrated, his replacement is sitting in a Dublin hotel lobby. Ruud Dokter is, by contrast, very optimistic.

The new High Performance Director isn’t in the job long but recognises an atmosphere for change.
“It’s a good time,” the 57-year-old Dutch official says. “We have a new management team, with Roy [Keane] and Martin [O’Neill].

“There’s a huge desire to take it to the next level, that’s what I have found speaking to people, to leagues, observing games.

“I’m here because I’ve come from a country with a big history in youth development. I’m not here to copy that system but I’m here to instil some principles of development, which are all over the world the same… you need to have a pyramid structure, one way or another.

“You can do it.”

The caveat to such a positive sense of purpose is we have heard such plans before, we have heard what must be done for so long, but we have so far seen no real effects.

The wonder, and hope, is whether that is finally changing…

At the very least, Dokter’s focus is clear, even if Irish football is not.

“It’s about putting a point on the horizon and saying this is where we’re going to go and this is how we’re going to play it.”

That end point is currently an ideal, but one Dokter has a fully rounded image of: it is the “uniform pyramid structure” that has been talked about since the Genesis Report.

“That’s something very important,” Dokter says. “If you want to develop, we need to have certain principles, and a pathway from six to 21. You need a common philosophy.

“How we play at the age of eight, 10, 12 should be in any league the same; same size of the field, same size of the goal, same size of the ball.

“Anyone speaking publicly nearly has to have every phrase siphoned through a lawyer – one word could cause a political bomb.”

“For me, it’s an important part of the puzzle, the pyramid structure. There should be national leagues for under-19s, 17s, 15s; at every level there must be a competition structure that allows, if you’re good enough, to go [to the next step].”

Fundamentally, that means a local club playing in Bushy Park should be a certain number of promotions away from the League of Ireland. Similarly, a young player starting out in Bushy Park should – if good enough – have a clear pathway through schoolboy football to either a foreign club or League of Ireland academy.

As it stands, and as elementary as that sounds, none of that is the case. Kinsella says there is still “no real alternative to England” for elite 16-year-olds. The feeling persists that positive initiatives like the Emerging Talent Programme still run alongside the structure rather than through it, that they are not a true tier.

If the ideal is a pyramid, it is actually very difficult to describe what the current shape of Irish football is. It doesn’t even have fully joined-up lines.

The polictical pillars of the game

Broadly speaking, there are three main pillars: schoolboy (the SFAI), junior (the provincial FAs) and senior (the League of Ireland). Between those pillars, the links are unclear. Within them, there are even more disparate blocks and often multiple different leagues in the same county, some of them with no defined place in the structure.

A kind view would call it an Escher painting. A harsh one would call it a mess.

Rather than clear steps, there have traditionally been gaps and ceilings everywhere, with the situation historically complicated by endless political issues.

It is for that reason that, while Dokter’s end point may be clear, the path there is not.

One FAI employee tells the story of a meeting he was at in 2008, when a pyramid structure was being discussed. “Why bother,” came one response. “It’s a political nightmare.”

That description would appear to be backed by the fact that, of 31 people approached to speak for this article, 11 would only do so off the record. As that same employee says, “anyone speaking publicly nearly has to have every phrase siphoned through a lawyer – one word could cause a political bomb.”

Officials from the SFAI did not return calls, those from the Dublin District Schoolboys League did not want to talk because of the dispute with the SFAI over the contentious radius rule – whereby players are only allowed join a club within a certain distance of their registered school.

That row actually reflects the entire problem. It would just never have existed if the structures were correct.
Eight different figures, some of them currently working for the FAI, boiled the issue down to this: the FAI traditionally have not governed football in the way the German or Dutch federations do.

All of them pointed to the crucial first step in the structure as one of the most important examples. The absolute key ages of development are between six and 12, yet the affiliation immediately in charge of those players have not always proven the most progressive. The SFAI rejected 44 of the 51 guidelines in that 2009 underage review, which remains untouched. Despite how important and obvious it seems, a significant number of leagues around the country for players under the age of 12 still involve 11-a-side matches as well full-size pitches and goals.

Speaking in general, Kinsella says “it’s a crazy situation the SFAI have one rule and the governing body another.”
When one FAI employee was asked why that was, he responded “you’d have to ask the schoolboy bodies”.

“Power? Some within the SFAI seem fearful of the FAI having any proper control of underage football. If John Delaney tried to railroad those changes through, they could just say no, and then turn around to thousands of volunteer administrators and say ‘we’re against this’.

“The Mé Féinism at local level goes right up, where you then have people at council not concerned about their county or affiliate, just their own club, and that’s of no value to a strategic approach to development.”

The Leagues, SFAI & FAI

One notorious story has rippled around coaching circles, and was repeated verbatim by four different sources. In January 2013, the coaches of the under-15 Irish team staged seminars in Dublin and Limerick to inform Kennedy Cup managers what they were looking for, since that squad is the first international age group. It was a logical and encouraging move, and should have precipitated wider integration.

The SFAI, however, were not initially consulted about this. So, shortly afterwards, the affiliation sent a memo to their 32 leagues to disregard the seminars.

The sessions went ahead, with 76 coaches attending in Dublin and 35 Limerick, but a number explained they wouldn’t be going because the SFAI had instructed them not to.

“We have to get everybody more working together, collaboration.”

As recent as that story is, the FAI insist things are changing. Senior figures stridently deny the association is as “political” as historically outlined. “The FAI run football in this country,” one official asserted when some of the above stories were put to him.

For the FAI’s part, there is evidence supporting their stance. Early in Delaney’s tenure as chief executive, the voting power at council was changed. The SFAI lost out and the League of Ireland gained, but this always had to be a first step in re-aligning the power balance along European lines so the senior game becomes more influential than the amateur.

One FAI figure also cited how the progressive DDSL wanted to leave the SFAI, but the governing body blocked that. Only a few years ago, too, the FAI would not have been able to put an exact number on the amount of clubs under their jurisdiction. It was much easier for a club to be formed out of nowhere to sidestep a political dispute or increase the voting power of a league. That has been tightened.

On a player level, the FAI has remarkably never had a full central registration system for the amateur and underage game – preventing statistical analysis – although a deal was signed in mid-November 2013 for the implementation of necessary software.

Leading FAI officials also believe criticism of the SFAI is “hugely unfair”, that there are a number of progressive people in the affiliation, and that the schoolboy body has “historically been very good for Irish football”.

That history is relevant, and there is no escaping how much a complicated political past has conditioned the current situation. When the major sports were first codified over a century ago, football was unfortunate the GAA and rugby had more fixed foundations, particularly in schools. From that, their structures were more smoothly built. As the League of Ireland clubs have repeatedly found, the GAA almost completely appropriated local representation.
Football had to find a different way to grow around such monoliths, which explains the formation of so many disparate affiliations, from the FAI Schools to the WFAI. While such a structure makes no sense compared to the modern fluency of the Dutch and German federations, it was an inevitable consequence of how football first laid roots in Ireland.

One of many catch-22s at the core of any reform is that it may require a lot of individual bodies and competitions to decide whether they must exist.

Evolution is rarely painless. Belgium found that during their own 2002 revolution. As their technical director Michel Sablon explained recently, “it took more than five or six years before everyone could bring themselves to accept… in the beginning it was terrible, but eventually they began to see it.”

Before that, in the mid-90s, the Dutch federation took 20 regions all working independently and combined them into just six. Dokter was involved in that process, alongside the legendary Rinus Michels, but does not necessarily feel a combative approach is the right way here.

“These competition structures are obviously a complex area,” he says.

“It’s about consultation, a professional discussion. Yes, you need sometimes to think outside the box, and that’s the challenge.

“We have to get everybody more working together, collaboration.”


That collaboration could be key because there is still so much separation and discord within Irish football. Even if every player under 12 was to enjoy the perfect coaching environment, the next step is fraught with further political complications.

If the ideal is that elite kids go through a schoolboy club to either England or a League of Ireland academy, many involved can still not stomach the idea of linking up with traditional rivals for players. There is a historic lack of trust – even “hatred” – from schoolboy and junior clubs towards the senior domestic league.

One primary aspiration for some clubs is to make money from selling players on, but one corresponding major fear is other teams poaching the finest candidates. Disputes over compensation remain rife.

Again, actual blame is somewhat difficult to apportion given the situation is so shaped by history as well as the gravitational pull of England, but that also makes it harder to untangle.

To begin illustrating the dilemma, there is the very fact the five biggest schoolboy clubs are not also five of the biggest Airtricity League clubs. That is another situation almost unique to Ireland. Instead, those clubs are found at the top of the DDSL, and have produced the key proportion of internationals over the past few decades. In terms of pure coaching and style, outfits like St Kevin’s Boys and Belvedere are shining examples to the rest of Ireland – another factor in the dispute over the radius rule.

“You cannot argue with how successful the DDSL have been to mine players,” says Dave Henderson, who has worked as a scout for Shelbourne and Aston Villa. “There’s something working there.

“The Belvederes, the [Cherry] Orchards and Kevin’s, they’ve kept the international team going, so you can’t just say go away.”

The crux is the long-term benefit of Irish football as a whole may require them to go a slightly different way. As many interviewed for this article state, the historic success of such teams has blurred the line between whether they are still just schoolboy clubs or effective “businesses” selling players abroad.

In an ideal structure, those teams would be linked to League of Ireland academies. The likes of Cork City and Sligo Rovers should be umbrellas for all the clubs in their region, serving as a defined tier in the pyramid.
Dokter supports this.

“Building strong clubs is very important: financially – which is a problem – but also in terms of organisation, logistics, facilities.”

The problem is not just asking the most successful schoolboy clubs to make a financial sacrifice. There is also the the reality that so many League of Ireland teams remain afflicted by necessarily short-term approaches, but that only reveals another crux. Initial small investments in youth structures would begin to have long-term benefits, gradually breaking the endless cycle of strife. Only a few clubs to do it, most notably Shamrock Rovers, Limerick and Waterford United.

That tension between short term and long term runs right through this entire issue of restructuring Irish football, right to the core of taking hard decisions.

When the idea of lowering the League of Ireland under-20s to under-19s was first broached a few years ago, there was “uproar”. Schoolboys clubs feared it was an encroachment into their territory; senior clubs worried about extra expenditure.

Gradually, reform came. The under-19 Elite League of Ireland was announced in 2011, and is now encouragingly being filled by Emerging Talent Programme graduates. It stands to reason that, over the next few years, the technical level of the League of Ireland will rise.

The FAI maintain that is proof Delaney’s gradual approach is the correct way to about this plan, and will secure sturdier foundations. “John will only make a move on something once he’s put the building blocks in first,” one association source said. “Things cannot just be done overnight.” Those close to the chief executive state he is conscious never to “burn a bridge with anyone involved”.

The other factor that can’t be overlooked is the FAI cannot exactly afford to burn money either. Even the implementation of small-sided games from the 2009 underage review would have cost around €3m, and that at a time when funding was being cut. That slowed the process, but there is still the dilemma that the limited money invested will be used inefficiently while the structure has so many gaps. That, again, makes reform imperative.

Critics of Delaney’s gradual approach argue that makes it all the more important he starts taking harder decisions with people; that the glacial pace will only lead to more rock-faces being formed, all while other countries stream away. Despite Delaney’s reluctance to risk future negotiations with a hardline attitude, some involved believe that is unavoidable. Three different high-profile sources stated that the chief executive now has a “golden opportunity”. They insist, however, that it is necessary to “grasp the nettle”, to draw a defined line in the sand like Germany in 2000 or Belgium in 2002.

The FAI maintain that juncture was the appointment of Dokter as High Performance Director.
of course, similar sentiments have been heard about his predecessor, but FAI sources explain they have learned from the 2012 departure of Koevermans; that they are now ready to rectify previous mistakes.

For one, the job description has changed, given that Dokter’s requirements are now 70% domestic. Secondly, there is his personality. Whereas Koevermans would get frustrated with disagreement, Dokter is much more conciliatory.

“I’m not here to say this is my law, so do this and this,” he states. “That’s rubbish. Our common point is the game – what is good for football.”

“It’s about persuading, and that’s why I’m here – for the football, not the personal. We have to stand above that.”
There are signs that may be having an effect. Previously, figures within the SFAI have been resistant to the idea of the Emerging Talent Programme incorporating players under 14. In January, however, Dokter’s recommendations that be changed will be put to the FAI board. It is expected to be waved through, in what one former association figure describes as a “big step”. It is also hoped the under-19 national league will be under-laid by an under-17 competition, as Dokter completes his technical plan. He will be assisted by a committee of coaches, and it is anticipated the SFAI will put forward John Devine, whose own proposals have earned praise.

“There is a desire for change,” the optimistic Dokter re-iterates. “It has to be step by step, how we can implement the good things.”

With Irish football, it’s hard to know.

You can read Part Two Here: Why arguments about populations don’t add up


The Coach Diary would like to thanks Miguel Delaney for allowing us to post his article. You can follow Miguel on twitter @MiguelDelaney or check out his blog 

Here are some stats from a recent study by the Icelandic FA:

  • Iceland has a population of just over 323,000 and over 41% of their coaches hold a UEFA B licence.
  • They want every single coach in Iceland to hold a UEFA B license.
  • That’s 245,000 less people than Dublin City.
  • They have 71,500 players age 5-34
  • They do PE twice a week for 6-19 years
  • All children must learn how to swim (1x per week, 6-17yrs)

We don’t need 20million people to make a large pool of quality footballers, what we need is a quality coach education (Huge improvements in this area are happening) pathway (that is age specific) which aim is to produce quality coaches. These coaches (clubs & leagues) then work off a national developmental pathway that is rolled out by our governing body (FAI) across Ireland.

You can download the German FA’s 14 year plan > Germany 14 year plan

I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me and if you don’t have anything to add, please pass this on to a friend.

As always, thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter  @Coachdiary

Child Protection

Children in Sport Code of Ethics

I attended the Irish Sports Council and FAI Awareness Workshop for Children in Sport. The child protection in sport awareness workshop is interactive and you will be prepared to get involved in the the 2.5 hr workshop.

It is the responsibility of all adults involved in football to actively promote best practice standards whilst being ever vigilant and aware of their responsibilities. Completing this workshop is part of your responsibility to the welfare and safety of children, which is paramount.

Children First Legislation was published on the 14th April.

The Bill provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:

  • A requirement on organisations providing services to children to keep children safe and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;
  • A requirement on defined categories of persons (mandated persons) to report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to the Child and Family Agency (the Agency);
  • A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Agency in the assessment of a child protection risk, if so requested to do so by the Agency;
  • Putting the Children First Interdepartmental Group on a statutory footing.

Provisions of the Bill will ensure that concerns about children will be brought to the attention of the Agency without delay and improve the quality of reports made to the Agency and the quality of follow up on concerns. The new legislation will operate in tandem with the existingChildren First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011]. Obligations on organisations

Organisations providing services to children and young people will now be required to undertake an assessment of any risks to a child while the child is availing of its services, and use this as the basis for developing a Child Safeguarding Statement. The purpose of the Statement is to identify how the organisation will manage any risks identified in the risk assessment. The Safeguarding Statement will also outline how staff/volunteers will be provided with information to identify abuse which children may experience outside the organisation, and what they should do with any concerns about child safety.

Minister Fitzgerald said it will strengthen the approach to protecting children in Ireland. “This brings an absolute clarity to the requirement to report abuse, to intervene if you’re aware a child is being abused,” she said. “So this strengthens the approach to protecting children in this country in a very important way.”

Mandated Reporters

Mandated reporters are persons who, by virtue of their training, responsibilities and experience should have an awareness of issues relating to child protection. These professionals either work with children or young people or they are in service sectors that encounter adults or families and children where there is risk of abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters will be required to report information regarding child abuse above a defined threshold which comes to their attention in the course of their professional or employment duties. They will also be required to report any direct disclosures of abuse from a child. 

“Our Goal is that children’s soccer is a safe & fun for all participants and conducted in the spirit of fair play” FAI


The FAI had up until recently 1 tutor responsible for child protection, now they have over 24, such is the seriousness of this bill. Any person working with children (This means everyone at the club) will be required to get Garda vetted and attend this workshop. The Chairman of the club is ultimately responsible for child welfare at the club not the child welfare officer as you might imagine.

I would suggest anyone involved with youth football to read Rule 71 and Rule 72 of the FAI > FINAL-Rule-Book and it’s best you do this course ASAP.

It was great to sit down with coaches and discuss some of the issues concerning the kids game at present. We all know that we could certainly be doing a lot more, to make the game a more enjoyable experience for the kids that play it.

You will also find some more information on The Irish Sports Council Website > The Code of Ethics and Good Practice for Children’s Sport in Ireland 

For more information and a list of FAI courses > Child Protection Course


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend.

Thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Irish Grassroots Football

U17s National League

The u17s National is on schedule according to inside reports. A list of scheduled meetings which are taking place on 22nd, 23rd & 24th April in relation to the League will be held on:

  • Tuesday, 22nd April @ 7p.m. FAI Abbotstown
  • Wednesday, 23rd April @ 7p.m. Tipperary St. Michaels FC
  • Thursday, 24th April @ 7p.m. Sligo Clarion Hotel

The talks will be held by Ruud Dokter (Director, High Performance), Niall Harrison (Emerging Talent Programme, National Coordinator), Fran Gavin (Director, Competitions Department), & Pat Duffy (Underage coordinator). Ruud Dokter and Niall Harrison will be giving a presentation on the night and this will be followed by a Q&A session.

Any Club with an interest in the National League U17s is invited to attend the meeting.

I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary


Street Soccer Is Coming Back..

The FAI & Fingal City Council have launched a new and exciting Street Skills football program. We regularly talk about kids not playing street football anymore and how the games we played as kids were some of the most influential in terms of developing game intelligence. This new method is trying to achieve just that.

Press release 24/02/14

FAI/FCC announce new Street Skillz program in partnership with Swords Pavilions

Exciting new Football participation program is planned for a number of venues in Fingal through the FAI/Fingal County Council and its partnership with Swords Pavilions. Following on the success of “Road to Poland”, “Road to Rio” is a new program called FAI Street Skillz. It is based on street games such as heads and volleys, world cup, three and in, football tennis, futsal and it’s like. It has been devised to ensure participants can enjoy their football with an exciting twist. 10 lucky participants from each venue will then attend a Street Skillz fun day in Swords Pavilions later on in the year.

Commenting on the program Paul Keogh FAI/Fingal County Council Development officer added,

“This new FAI/FCC Street Skillz program has the potential to be hugely successful. The format is for kids to turn up and play, recreating the street games us adults would have played in our youth. We often say let the game be the teacher and this program certainly allows for that. It is open to boys and girls born 2002, 2003, 2004 & 2005 and is starting firstly in Skerries Community Centre all weather on the 3rd March from 430pm-6pm. The support from Swords Pavilions has to be acknowledged and their continued support will mean we can deliver our programs in more area’s in Fingal”

Ian Hunter, Centre Director of Swords Pavilions added,

“We are delighted to continue our support of FAI/FCC with the development of the new Street Skillz program in Fingal. It is a fantastic opportunity for the younger kids of the area to learn new skills in an environment that encourages them to give it a go no matter their current skill level. We are also delighted that the program will hold a fun day in at the centre latter in the year to celebrate the skills learnt”

All you have to do, is turn up and play!


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Irish Grassroots Football

SFAI League Infighting Creating a lot of Collateral Damage

If you are a little confused about what’s going on with all the attention on the SFAI cup this year. This well scripted article explains a lot about what’s gone on. Here it is:

Richard O’ Donovan discusses the current state of schoolboy soccer in Ireland, a topic that is very close to his heart.


“Legitimacy is based on three things:

  1. The people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice – if they speak up, they will be heard;
  2. The law has to be predictable (i.e. it should be the same or similar from one year to the next);
  3. The authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.”

Malcolm Gladwell (citing Tom Tyler, David Kennedy & Lawrence Sherman) in his new book David & Goliath

The legitimacy of the rule making, or perhaps more accurately the rule administering of the FAI may about to be tested at the grass root level of Irish football, and yet despite its gravity, the story thus has largely been unreported across the country.

As of this weekend (8th/9th February) 24 of the 25 qualifying teams (11 clubs) from the Cork region of the Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland’s (SFAI’s) National Cup Competitions will, as things stand ,refuse to fulfil their fixtures at the current stage of the competitions – the stage where the nation’s 8 regions begin to interact.

If this turns out to be the Cork club’s decisions, the SFAI, will in almost all likelihood award the ties in question to the Lee sider’s respective opponents and in doing so, they will quickly seek to brush what has become an ugly episode in underage Irish football under the rug.

However if this is what is actually allowed to happen, and no light is shone on the actions of those around the country who are supposed to be guiding and governing our young players then that would be a great injustice.

For now we can still hope that an amicable solution will prevail before the impending fixtures arrive, but if things go as expected then at least we can hope that this shameful episode does not go under reported.

Make no question, the conduct of the FAI as a whole should be in the spotlight here, this is not just a small issue to be dismissed.



I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Irish Grassroots Football

Time to start again..

What a couple of weeks in Irish football. Let’s not fool ourselves it was coming for along time. So, whats next for a game that is so passionately loved in this country, it’s just a pity almost everyone loves the league across the water and turns their back on the one just around the corner.

We are are unique in that we don’t have a professional league, yet we have a international team that competes at the highest stage. We need to start again, implement a ten year plan including growing the LOI, showing it love and attention.. Get rid of the SFAI and all the aul morons that sit on their board and committee, (they are only interested in the blazer) especially the ones that just aren’t interested in change and their are plenty of them – And let’s set up a Youth Association which would branch from the FAI. Those members could then decide if they want to be part of a future plan,  a plan for the future of kids football.

At present everyone is in it for themselves, each has their own agendas and anything suggested for benefit of kids football gets voted down, because everyone has their own agendas to get passed first. Why, are we so different and how did we end up with some many different bodies running kids football. In other countries the football governing body, run football from the worms eye view to senior, only in Ireland it is so different and so incomplete. Personally I feel it’s time the FAI took full responsibility for the game. It unbelievable that they let a body like the SFAI control the most important aspect of a players development and not only that, they make a complete balls of it! i know there are decent men and women involved who truly care but they are few.

The Youth FAI Group would consist of experts from various agencies, including teachers, coaches, paediatrics, child psychologists, former pros and other experts.

John Giles

I was little confused when I heard the great John Giles, talk about the youth game on ‘off the ball’ (Irish Sports Radio programme) on Newstalk last Thursday. He was asked about kids football; he made a reference about two games he’d watched last week- a u13 (I believe he meant u14s) and u19 game and on that basis states that Grassroots football is played the way he should be. He started by saying, “Its was brilliant and a joy to watch” Giles went on to say, “if the international team is doing well, coaches are inclined to copy” Ehh, I don’t think any decent coach would ever copy Irelands style of play at the moment (Under Trap) and he continued to talk about the games he saw, he said they were, “Skilful, with plenty of effort” …..he spoke about International football versus Schoolboy…and said, “I think the two things are being mixed up and a lot of people are putting the two together, they are both two different problems” …and there was me thinking it was just one big problem!!

He said, “Obviously the international problem needs to be solved and then look at the schoolboy football problem”.… he goes onto talking about his experience (the four teams he saw) how excellent the football was…… We all know of plenty of teams, who play nice football and if it is the St Francis u14 team he means, he’s correct, they do play excellent football, but let’s not fool the public John Giles, you are talking about FOUR teams, two games of football, 44 players and your grandsons. The rest of the interview is good, listen half way into the podcast for reference to grassroots etc.

Listen here to the rest of the interview John Giles on OFF THE BALL

What next for Irish football? 

Personally, I feel a complete overall of the grassroots games needed. The FAI should be in full control and from the outside looking in you would think this to be the case, but it’s not. So who is in control? Well, a group established in 1934 called the SFAI run youth football in Ireland, they have full control of it. Ridiculous as it seems; the FAI, from what I can see have no say in how the game is run or what the various league should be doing. This needs to change and change fast. FAI need to take back full control of how the game is run in Ireland. They’re one of very few governing bodies of a sport, that don’t govern the sport from bottom to top.

‘The kids aren’t practicing enough and our system is not helping them to succeed, not allowing the required touches of the ball, to be brilliant players’.


Now is the time to begin again, a ten year plan like the one Germany, Chile and recently Belgium have implemented. A plan where everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. The FAI recently appointed RUUD DOKTER as the FAI’s new High Performance Director. The Dutchman, who has coached a number of the Netherlands’ underage teams as well as their senior women’s side, replaced compatriot Wim Koevermans after he departed for the Indian national job last summer.

Ruud has also previously coached the Qatar U20s and spent time working in the US. He began  his role on August 1 and look after the men’s programme, with exception of the senior squad, as well as the women’s and underage groups and the Emerging Talent Programme.

So far I have heard good things about the man, with the Emerging Talent Programme high on the agenda for a facelift and some serious tweaking. This man, may also have to step in for the Germany game, which may not be a bad thing.


Europe has four development age categories: the 4-7 year olds, 7-11 year olds, 12-16 year olds and the 17-21 year olds

Emerging Talent Programme

The ETP has 12 centres across Ireland, with an average of 22 players training once a week for 1.5 hours, with a game once a month against another regional centre. Already I’m thinking 22 players, seems a very low number considering the vast amount of kids in Dublin alone that play the game. I also have an issue with the time spent with the players. 1.5 hours a week and in some centres they only get an hour. In this short time, coaches have to get a chat in, try and speak to all the player, do a warm up followed by a session, that’s not enough contact time. Which means we are relying on their clubs to develop them, clubs were in some cases the coach is a parent with a few balls, bibs, cones and no qualifications and in some cases no more interested in developing his/her knowledge of the game.

This can be standard that some of our best kids are left working with.

“the team with the most creative players and players who can dominate the 1vs1 situations all over the field will be the most successful team in the world.”

Another concern is the ET Centres are mostly run by Regional Development Officers and Volunteers who might get an a few bob for helping out. Most RDO’s are stretched beyond belief, which can leave the volunteers to take up some of the sessions. I’m not for a minute doubting the volunteers aren’t capable of running the sessions but there is only so much that people will do for nothing, there is only so much effort you will give without a financial reward. Volunteers themselves are also helping out with more teams. This area of coaching certainly needs to be managed a lot better and with consistency and time.

10,000 hours

I seriously am questioning again our culture and attitude towards development in this country and at the moment the only hope for these players to succeed is Malcolm Gladwells the 10,000 hour rule and their own desire. Which for those you haven’t heard is roughly 20 hours a week, 2.8 hours per day for 10 years, in order to find success, if not perfection in a sport.

‘The three (must have) keys to success in sports are good instruction, practice and repetition, and most importantly – trust in your skills’.

Which leads me to Rene Meulensteen

 Grassroots upThe ET programme starts at 10-16, so they say. I know for a fact that some centres don’t start until u14s and this is to late. We should be monitoring kids from age 10, taking them in at least once a month for at minimum 2 hours at a time. The focus here should be on ball mastery and 1v1’s, playing under pressure, making quick decisions, change of direction, basically everything Coerver teaches. We should also be using these kids for workshops, FAI coaching courses, so that they have every chance to learn.

I’m also concerned with the fact that it ends so early, age 16. We have 12 centres with an average of 22 players, that’s 264 – if the International set-up takes on 22 of these what happens to rest? How are we monitoring their progress? Where do these players go and how are we dealing with the disappointment of not making the grade? Does this fall on the LOI to take in the ones that haven’t made the grade?


Europe has four development age categories: the 4-7 year olds, 7-11 year olds, 12-16 year olds and the 17-21 year olds. I always find it very strange when I hear scouts from English clubs telling kids that if you haven’t made it by 16 (Premier Ambitions)  you won’t make it. Yet in Europe 17-21 is still a development age bracket. We need to be doing more for the 17-21 development age, many players who never ever come through the international set-up have gone on to make it in football. We are definitely losing some of these kids to other sports and possibly sport in general.

Getting back to the LOI, Why don’t we market the LOI, when do you ever hear a LOI player on our national radio or television talking and promoting the game. Every sports bulletin starts with the English result first and the LOI ones last. We can grow our game with a little more marketing, support, love and attention.

Neil Cronin

Former coach Neil Cronin, who has travelled on many occasions with the Cork Schoolboy league said, “Three of our players – Roy Keane, Stephen Ireland, and David Meyler – went on to the premier league and each never received a day’s coaching from the FAI before they captained Cork at the Kennedy Cup”, “There may be a perception that the FAI put all the work into the young players but they only get the white part of the Guinness pint. Clubs and Leagues devote years to preparing players.” Whatever they do or don’t more needs to be done know.

Here is an article about the rift between the SFAI and FAI. ‘FAI votes reveals the level of rift between the SFAI and the FAI” read about it here: Continued infighting within Irish football

“The difficulty lies not in the new ideas but escaping from the old ones” – John Maynard Keynes

Below I have listed some of my ideas and others who have also talked about change.

What I’m thinking (In black) and what others have said (In Blue):

  1. Abolish the SFAI (reform) Select a committee that is not appointed by the FAI but maybe voted in by the leagues. For instance if I wanted to put my name forward, I would be representing my local league. 
  2. Create a new organisation called the Youth FAI, branching from the FAI, under control of the FAI. Many are not in favour of the FAI having control, the leagues can still run their academies but they would have to abide by the plan. Each League would have a presentative working with them make sure they are adopting all the proper development procedures. Those who do will get extra financial funding. 
  3. Implement a ten year NATIONAL plan, look at what Germany, Belgium and Spain have done. The player pathway was introduced many years ago, but it’s not working and looks like its been shelved.
  4. We need to value the SSG and make it much more flexible. More and better players through child-friendly football. Parents should be kept to one area and away from the kids and we don’t need referees. 
  5. Introduce non competition football from u9 to u12s. Start with 3v3 for u8s, 4v4 for u9s, 5v5 for u10s, 7v7 for u11 and u12s, 8v8 or 9v9 for u13s and 11v11 at u14s. Leave an option open to continue with 8v8 or 9v9v in areas that may not have access to pitches and/or players. This is proven in many parts of Europe, = MORE TOUCHES OF THE BALL.
  6. National guidelines for competition structures for all age groups, making sure everyone is working from the same programme with the same goal.
  7. Put the player first Attitude.
  8. Clubs must have academies, must have proper facilities and qualified coaches. Introduce a licensing and rewarding system. Some suggestions to start with leagues first and reward the academies if they meet the required standards. 
  9. To coach a kids football team their must be at least on adult with the required qualifications specific to his/her age group.
  10. Introduce a club licence with minimum criteria needed to set-up for kids football, i.e Qualified coaches, Facilities, Equipment, Child Welfare officer, Mission statement, Vision, Goals. Again start with leagues first.
  11. Use the best volunteer coaches in ETC (not friends), reward them with free further education. Get RDO’s to work weekends, so they can monitor the game on the ground.
  12. Begin ETC at age 10-21 years. The leagues should start their academies early with the ETP starting after the Kennedy cup, so u14s. After this the league centre should be the regional centre keeping the national philosophy within the leagues. 
  13. Introduce a progressive and phased player pathway.
  14. Begin a player retention programme and a programme for players returning from the abroad.
  15. More emphasis on girls soccer.
  16. Implement Futsal into all leagues, all more team enter into community games and extend the age range, bring back the coaching curriculum.
  17. Introduce a ‘intro to coaching’ specific course for anyone looking to get involved. Looking at what is expected of you and reasons for getting involved. This course would be the door to further education. Anyone doing their K1 or K2 should start coaching in their academies and if they are good enough only then should they be allowed to the Youth Cert. Everyone should pass the course but be given a grade, A= you are able to go on and do the UEFA B provided you are coaching with a team. B= You need more work, nearly there but you will need to be assessed if you want to do your UEFA B. C= Your will need to come back and do a final assessment in two months in order to receive your cert.  Everyone wishing to do the UEFA B should be pre-assessed and again a pass grading system should be applied. 
  18. Parent Behaviour course, mandatory for all clubs for all parents. 1.5 hour workshop.
  19. More access to courses, make them more relevant to the needs of kids today. Look to other European nations and bring in parts of their course into ours. We can’t keep coaching the same content with the same style. Football has many styles of play and so do coaches.
  20. Encourage coaches to develop, introduce incentives to obtain further qualifications. We will need more qualified coaches for a plan to work.
  21. Market the LOI better – More funding for LOI Academies.
  22. Promotion of Futsal in schools programme, promoting the game nationally. How many people are aware of the Emerald League?
  23. Keep kids playing in their communities, no travelling until u13s. If they are good enough then the regional centres will be able to look after. However we would need to be catering for more numbers then the standard. Allow the players move after the Kennedy Cup i.e u14’s and only Elite Players should be allowed move. There is no point in the best regional players going to Dublin to sit on the bench. Year on year regional leagues lose tens of players to Dublin clubs, so go up and never kick a ball in a game. The transfer window closes 15th October and some of these players will be in squads of over 18 players and rarely play. If you’re not playing you’re not learning. That is why we need a transfer window December to January to help some of these players get back into playing. 

Rene Meulensteen

Rene+Meulensteen+Manchester+United+FC+Porto+RUNnKCZAmlplAbove are some of the ideas subscribers to this blog and I have come up with. I could go on for ever. I’m sure some of you have even more to add. The final part of the process is the senior international manager and like Adam, one man I believe we should be looking at is Rene Meulensteen.

Adam McGee (@AdamMcGee11) from ‘More than a game’ explains just way in this excellent piece.

Born in the Netherlands, Meulensteen, 49, has spent the bulk of his coaching career with Manchester United. He arrived at Old Trafford in 2001 as a technical skills development coach with a primary focus on the academy and the younger players on the fringe of the first team. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Nani, Tom Cleverley and the Da Silva twins are some of the players from the current United first team set up that were molded by Meulensteen from an early age. No one witnessed more dramatic growth under the Dutchman’s tutelage than Cristiano Ronaldo though. Meulensteen worked one to one with Ronaldo on his attitude, while helping him to fine tune the natural abilities he had, with improved fundamentals. He isn’t a man with radical coaching philosophies, more a coach with a remarkable understanding of the basics of football, the mechanics. Meulensteen recently revealed the secrets of how he helped Ronaldo to reach that next level while in conversation with the Telegraph’s Henry Winter, and it’s striking how simple his message was.

In 2008, he became First Team Coach at United and one of Ferguson’s right hand men. In his time with the first team, he cemented his reputation as one of the world’s best technical coaches. He worked with the likes of Patrice Evra and Antonio Valencia on their positional awareness, helped Ryan Giggs to reinvent himself, as well as working on pre-match tactics in the build up from game to game. Robin Van Persie credited Meulensteen for his strong form last season.

Talking of Meulensteen’s game plans Van Persie remarked, “I have had a lot of good trainers, but it’s the way he prepares our team for games. Every match is different, so every training session in the build-up to games is unique.” This tactical savvy developed as a result of the young Meulensteen studying some of the greatest teams in history, and particularly the Dutch “Total Football” system of the 1970′s. He worked closely with legendary Dutch coach Wiel Coerver, and strictly adheres to his coaching philosophy. Coerver believed that technical abilities could be coached and that the best teams were born of players who were coached to utilise their existing abilities. By studying some of the best players in the world, Coerver developed a coaching system which could teach skills and techniques to less naturally gifted players. The result is an attacking philosophy built upon working on ball control, first touch and passing, 1v1′s, speed, finishing and attacking as a unit.

This, along with his own man-management style is what Meulensteen could provide Ireland. He could improve the fundamentals of the promising young core the Irish team currently has, while away from Senior games helping to construct a system and philosophy to best develop Irish football into the future. In 2008, the FAI appointed Wim Koeverman as International High Performance director. 4 years on, after Koeverman left to manage the Indian National Team, the relationship would largely be deemed a failure. The reason Meulensteen could succeed where his fellow countryman failed is because of his intricate knowledge of coaching in England, in particular the volatile academy system that the majority of Irish players pass through. Who better to establish a philosophy from the ground up, or develop centres of excellence across the country than the man who was tasked with producing players for Manchester United.

Thanks for the above Adam, you can read the rest of his post here ‘More than a game’ 

Below is video worth looking at, clips from one of Rene’s workshops. I think Rene and Ruud, would be an excellent partnership. They are both Dutch, we had already been working on a 4-3-3 system with the younger international teams, so that would make things a little easier. They could both have an input into the structure of the grassroots game in Ireland and Coerver is already well established in Ireland.

You may be reading this an thinking I’m a dreamer,; I think I’m a realist and I believe in making things happen, I believe in the ability of Irish football players but I also understand that this all costs money, you pay for the best. So maybe another business man who has an interest in Irish Soccer could assist with financial support or maybe JD needs to take another salary cut to come in line with his European neighbours (Spain and Italy).  One thing is for sure change needs to happen and happen fast, we need the best in the business looking at the game from bottom to top.  Nothing is as upsetting to people as change. Yet nothing is as important to the survival of our game as change. History is full of examples of organisations that failed to change and that are now extinct.

How does a Plan work?

For a plan to work it needs to be successfully managed, from the perspective of the volunteers, by definition and understanding their concerns. Resistance to change comes from a fear of the unknown or an expectation of loss and we all need to support each other. And given all the weight of evidence, the public opinion and years of consultation, underpinned by academic research around the world, there is summaries of recommendations that we could support, implement and take forward for the development of youth football in Ireland. The focus is on creating an enjoyable and developmental system for player development across Ireland.

‘Skill is always triggered by attitude’ Rene Meulensteen

Let’s hope change will come soon. Kids football is changing, let’s not get left behind!


All of the above is based on my own research, please correct me If I have got any of the above wrong.


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Girls Soccer

Fingal Festival of Football all set for Saturday 17th August, AUL

Fingal County Council in partnership with the FAI are delighted to launch this year’s Fingal Festival of Football which takes place throughout Saturday 17th August at AUL, Clonshaugh.  The FFF, previously known as the Harmony Cup, is now in its 11th year and although the original competition was developed solely as a cross-border football tournament for boys only, it has over the years broadened to a more inclusive Fingal Festival of Football, catering this year for 30+ teams across five sections: boys, girls, Special Olympics, and Irish Street Leagues.

This year will also see the running of the U10 and U12 Girls Soccer Festival which is held to promote the underage girls’ game, and an additional 100 girls are expected to attend on the day, to play a 5-a-side blitz and other fun events with the major emphasis on the fun and enjoyment of taking part.

In speaking about the Girls Soccer Festival, Paul Keogh FAI/Fingal County Council Development officer said “we hope for a great turnout of girls for what is sure to be a great day out.  Girls can enter by forming teams, entering club teams or by individual registration. With the success of the Metropolitan girl’s league under the auspice of the NDSL it is an exciting time for girl’s football. Huge credit must go to Fingal County Council for incorporating so many strands of the game into one day”.

ImageSenior Sports Officer of Fingal County Council, Niall McGuirk, commented “The Fingal Festival of football continues to grow and evolve each year. We believe this is a unique day of football with inclusiveness a key aspect. Previous years have shown a fantastic standard of play and we would encourage all who might be interested to come along”.

The essence of the Fingal Festival of Football has not significantly altered from its original inception which is that it is not an ‘elite based’ football tournament but a community event providing a fun environment for young people to come together while enjoying their sport and an opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, cultures and religious beliefs. This year teams will be travelling from all across Fingal county and the competition will also see teams from Louth, Meath, Northern Ireland & Wicklow.

  • For further information on the U10 & U12 Girl’s Soccer Festival contact: Paul Keogh Fingal/FAI Development Officer or 086-044 4435
  • For further information on the Fingal Festival of Football Event contact Niall Mc Guirk Senior Sports Development Officer or 087-120 6431