Irish Grassroots Football

Relative Age Effect In Irish Elite Youth Football – By Laura Finnegan

Laura is Lecturer in Sport Management and Talent Development in Waterford I.T, MA in Sport Psychology and currently undertaking a PhD on organisational structure and practice in Irish football (with Liverpool John Moores University).

Laura has done this study in partnership with Liverpool John Moore University with Dave Richardson, Martin Littlewood and Mark Nesti. All of which have significant experience in youth development and identifying and managing critical transitions within youth football. The study is an intensive project that will take approx 5/6 years to complete (there are periodical reports and publications throughout). Laura is immensely passionate about the potentially positive impact that producing objective insights could have on talent development in Ireland. The study consisted of 3 main studies, mainly centred on the wider talent development process in Ireland.
  1. The study involved interviews with the main stakeholders as regards development (e.g. FAI, SFAI, ETP, club personnel etc). It sought to assess philosophies/aims of these groups, what indicates a ‘successful outcome’ for elite development, views on each other/roles etc. The info will be related to organisational culture literature etc. Issues/unique characteristics of the Irish system will be identified.
  2. Study Two put some grassroots perspectives on the practices of these various bodies and personnel involved in the process. Interviews with coaches involved at different levels of Irish youth football, parents of kids involved and also with kids that have gone through the system, RDO’s etc.
  3. Study three sought to provide a real-time, real-life perspective of the various stages of talent development, all related to talent development literature. She followed a cohort of kids entering the ETP at the beginning and kept track of them as they face various transitions etc along the way, for 4 years. By keeping track of them allowed her to follow up reguarly with interviews which highlighted the various paths that they’ve taken and the different challenges/supports they’ve faced (i.e. transitions to UK, being forced to choose between county minor and LOI u17).
 This is the first publication to come from the study: Laura’s research starts here: 

rae visual

What is it?

The relative age effect (RAE) refers to a preference for selecting footballers born earlier in the year, often due to enhanced maturational factors (being bigger, faster, stronger physically but also are often more cognitively and emotionally mature) over their teammates born later in the year. As the graph above demonstrates, there is potentially the difference of a year growth between youth players!

For research purposes nosiness on my part, I broke the most commonly represented clubs on the ETP down individually. The clubs with the most quarter one births were Cherry Orchard (51.6%), St. Kevins (43.8%), Belvedere (44%) and Malahide Utd (43.5%).

Why is it a problem?

This can lead to a biased view of ‘potential’, which leads to these players being exposed to more game-time, getting selected for representational squads, receiving higher standards of coaching and leading to greater training opportunities. It’s often these physical factors that make players (especially in their early teens) stand out, stamina means it’s the fittest player still being seen to make challenges late on in games, a tall player will often stand out from the rest. It’s the same reason that there was an issue with one particular scout from a big English club always coming back recommending blond players… scanning a field of players, the blond heads tended to stand out!

RAE pic

The impact of this is that less mature, talented players can often be overlooked. How many times have you seen a coach ‘picking all the big fellas to head to the Kennedy Cup’ or chatted about whether Messi would’ve come through the Irish system?





We are delighted to the first blog to review her research and be able to share it with the world: You can read the rest of Laura’s article by going directly to her website:


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

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and @LetTheKidPlay