- 14 Jun 21
The ten point plan, developed under the auspices of SIPTU, aims to provide a clear path towards the development of soccer in Ireland – both at community and high performance levels.
Members of the trade union SIPTU, working in and with the Football Association of Ireland, have published a radical new plan called 'Towards 2025: A football development plan for Ireland'. The blueprint for the immediate future of football in Ireland calls on the association to establish a national underage league involving clubs across the Republic. It also argues for the creation of a residential academy for both boys and girls; and the implementation of an elite All-Ireland premier league by 2025 – among other initiatives, designed to ensure that the association has an inclusive, community-driven model going forward.
The ambitious proposal also includes the employment of a Player Welfare Manager to restore the "duty of care" system for players in Ireland, Irish players abroad and re-patriated players alike. An increasing number of highly talented young Irish players have been returning home early from professional careers in England. Many are lost to the game, though some – like Jack Byrne (pictured) can get an effective re-start, if they find the right club context in which to re-ignite their careers, as Byrne did with Shamrock Rovers, before being signed by APOEL, based in Nicosia, Cyprus. Jack Byrne has since gone on to win four Irish caps – and at the age of just 25, there's likely plenty more to come.
“Our members employed in the FAI are passionate about the game," said SIPTU Sector Organiser Martin O’Rourke.
"They are using their voice also on behalf of the numerous volunteers, who are the backbone of the sport across the country, to call for a new, inclusive FAI structure and community-led development of the game. They wish to bring their innovative ideas forward for consideration and are seeking immediate engagement with all stakeholders to discuss their proposals.
O'Rourke adds that he has sought a meeting with Catherine Martin, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Minister of State in charge of sport, Jack Chambers.
"At this meeting we wish to discuss the points included in 'Towards 2025 - a football development plan for Ireland' and the continued refusal of the management of the FAI to engage proactively with SIPTU representatives.”
The ten points included in the SIPTU plan, 'Towards 2025 – a football development plan for Ireland', are as follows:
1. A national stakeholders convention involving schoolboy leagues and League of Ireland clubs to discuss the implementation of a new premier and first division league.
2. A new underage League of Ireland involving schoolboy clubs around the country, for under-15 to under-19 teams with promotion and relegation and no age gaps.
3. A national residential academy for elite boys and girls, including a three year full-time course incorporating the leaving certificate. The FAI Abbotstown campus in Dublin to act as a training base with an educational institution catering for the leaving certificate. Players to return to play with their respective clubs at the weekend. A plan to progress to having Education and Training Boards (ETB) FAI academies around the country.
4. Development of a full-time transition year programme, including female only soccer courses, with local authorities around the country.
5. Investment in Education and Training Boards (ETB) FAI courses which is the only dual career education programme to ensure players employability prospects at end of their playing career. A girls only ETB/FAI player development course to be established in major centres around the country.
6. Employment of a player welfare manager. Restore the duty of care system for players in this country, players abroad and for repatriated players.
7. An all-island premier league to be researched and implemented by 2025. First divisions to remain as is with promotion and relegation. An under-23s league to be established in the League of Ireland
8. Schoolboy leagues to have a minimum amount of games every year. An agreed games calendar for boys and girls with a minimum amount of games agreed. Futsal (internationally recognised indoor five-a-side game) development centres and competitions to be established.
9. League of Ireland clubs to affiliate with every underage club in their area for the development of a common coaching policy/player development strategy.
10. A major strategic and employment plan to develop a football/futsal ethos in primary and secondary schools around the country; involving FAI Development Officers, League of Ireland clubs and grassroots clubs.
There has been considerable disquiet in under-age and junior football at the direction in which the FAI policy has been moving. Against that background, the SIPTU plan has received a strong welcome from what are some of the most important football clubs in Ireland for developing talent.
Martin Loughran, of Crumlin United FC, said: “I support a discussion around the ten point plan that has been produced by SIPTU members in the FAI. It is time for all the stakeholders involved in soccer in Ireland to stop working against each other and instead work together.”
Vincent Butler, of Belvedere FC, said: “Soccer has progressed in this country due almost entirely to the grassroots clubs who start academies for kids from four years of age and upwards. This work is now being undermined by the actions of the FAI and League of Ireland clubs, who take the most talented 12 year old’s from the grassroots clubs. The recent successes of Ireland under 21 teams at international level are due to the work of the grassroots clubs, which is now being put in jeopardy.”