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Ireland’s Next Generation

In recent years, the Airtricity League has produced a number of now fully-fledged Irish internationals, including James McClean and Séamus Coleman.

Despite sparse attendances and little media attention, the League of Ireland is still managing to develop prodigious talents.

This fact raises an interesting debate: are young Irish players better off gaining experience in their domestic league before going abroad?
Stephen Finn, the communications executive for the FAI, says that they are doing their best to nurture young players.
“The number of players that leave Ireland is much less than what people would think. We (the FAI) have our emerging talent programme which has produced an enormous amount of players playing in the Airtricity League, and our focus is to keep these players in Ireland.”

However, Sligo Rovers defender Séamus Conneely believes that the FAI should encourage all Irish clubs to further develop the young talent in the country.

“I think that all of the teams in the league should have an academy; you would then graduate from that into the first team. Teams in England have this system and if the FAI is serious about running a professional league, then modern-day academies need to be introduced.”

The potential for football players to opt for an alternative career in either GAA or rugby is a big issue for the FAI and is a struggle that Stephen Finn is aware of.

“We have strong indigenous sports in this country and we also have a strong rugby culture. If you look across Europe, there are very few countries that have to compete with one or even both of these factors.”

To turn professional on a full-time basis, the Airtricity League needs to address certain issues like crowd attendances and sponsorship deals. However, if done effectively and efficiently, the league could evolve into the future home for the next ‘Boys in Green’.

Picture by Darragh Connolly

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