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St Francis hopeful despite LOI setback

St Francis are hoping to return to the League of Ireland First Division for the first time since 2001. David Seagrave asks how close the former Liberties side are to Ireland’s elite? 

St Francis Football Club won’t put their development plan at risk for League of Ireland (LOI) football, following the FAI’s decision to reject their application.  

Chief Commercial Officer David Bergin highlighted that the core of the club’s plan is self-sustainability, and that they aim to develop their players “mentally, emotionally and physically”.

John Hyland Park in Baldonnel, south Dublin: home of St Francis Football club. Photo courtesy of David Bergin.

The club have said that they do not want to put sustainability at risk, and that guidance from the FAI will assist them in their ambition to return to the League of Ireland First Division.  

“We have more important plans in place than getting a press box for the league. It might have an advantage for a matchday, but it won’t have the advantage of progressing our club forward”

David Bergin, St.Francis’ Cheif Commercial officer

Founded in the Liberties by John Hyland, St. Francis have recently added a state-of-the-art 3G all-weather pitch and a 180 square metre gym to their facilities in Baldonnel. They have also started an educational partnership with TU Dublin Tallaght Campus, which Bergin believes “builds on the philosophy of the club”.  

St Francis FC formerly played in the League of Ireland First Division from 1998-2001 following the expulsion of St James’s Gate. Before that, they became the first non-league team to reach the FAI Cup final in 50 years, a record they still hold to this day.  

Bergin explained the hurdles which their members – especially at underage level – have faced. While the club have tried their best to help, he feels there is no replacement for the “fresh air and running around to get their mind off of school”.  

“The biggest [change] is that we’re not operating. It’s really frustrating, we’ve got over 300 members, and they’re not training… The first lockdown was different, the weather was good, it was bright. People were able to go out and kick a ball and do stuff.

“Some of the kids are struggling doing homework and zoom classes, not seeing their friends. Parents have contacted us concerned about the mental health of the kids, which is worrying.

“Coaches are facilitating zoom classes and coaching sessions, and some are just chatting to the kids to try and have a laugh with them, and it’s interactive enough to keep them on the straight and narrow.” 

The Future

While progress has been hampered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bergin remains optimistic regarding the future of the club, saying they are “in a great position thanks to the hard work over the last three or four years”. 

“We’ve developed the infrastructure and can cater towards more people in the locality. We’re still a Liberties club at heart, the past players and members are still at the core of the club and that’s very important to us… we’re in the process of hiring a fitness instructor who will be given a plan to develop the motor skills of the younger kids.” 

The club have also credited their Director of Football and former LOI full-back Simon Madden, labelling his development plan as “excellent”.

Despite their League of Ireland rejection, the club feel that the long-term development is more important than their club status, which could find them knocking on the doors of other Dublin teams such as Shelbourne, Cabinteely and UCD.  

The club insist the priority is their development plan, however, there is a confident atmosphere around the club regarding their League of Ireland future.  

“We have more important plans in place than getting a press box for the league. It might have an advantage for a matchday, but it won’t have the advantage of progressing our club forward. All that needs to be weighed up… There never was a rush. We will find out what’s needed, loom at the application process and see where we need to go. There was nobody disappointed when we didn’t get it. Everyone’s a realist, and we’ll address the information we got back, and we can amend our development plan to fit those things into our timeline.”

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