League of Ireland: An Opportunity We Must Not knock

David Wilson reporting for the Sean McCaffrey Foundation

As the domestic season concludes, the importance of league of Ireland football continues to help the development of young footballers across both Cavan and Monaghan.

Monaghan United Cavan Football Partnership

Currently, the Cavan/Monaghan Football Partnership provide four teams who compete in the northern section of the underage League of Ireland. These teams compete at the elite level in the country, contesting against the likes of Derry City, Finn Harps, Bohemians F.C and Shamrock Rovers on a regular basis.

Usually, this time of the year is used to retain players from the previous year whilst also looking to integrate new players into the squads. At under-13 and under-15 levels, retention is high with many players progressing to the next level. However, at under-17 and under-19 level, player retention decreases. This is due to a few factors, clashing with other sports, school exams and players moving to other clubs just the example of some.

Teams

This year, the newly formed under-13 side did remarkably well under the guidance pf Francie Matthews. This was off the back of a successful Kennedy Cup year in 2018, along with the positive development of players through the emerging talent programme.

The under-15 side competed well under Colm Mooney whilst the under-17 side under the tutelage of Eamon McGlone showed a marked improvement over the course of the year. The under-19 side competes at an especially high level and learned a lot by competing against the top academies throughout the country.

Development

However, are results the most important thing for the development of players through these systems? Probably not. The provision of high-level competition through a season long basis has allowed the players and coaches of the Cavan/Monaghan region to challenge themselves against the best across the nation.

These underage League of Ireland structures are unique in the sense that they allow footballers throughout their youth career to compete at a national basis. Ireland has a tradition of sending its most talented players across the water, but now times are changing. More players than ever before are now deciding to stay at home and learn their trade domestically and complete their education.

Senior level

The Irish senior team is made up of many players who have come through the league of Ireland pathway. These include, Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Enda Stevens, Matt Doherty, Sean Maguire and Ronan Curtis whilst recent call-ups Jack Byrne and James Talbot currently ply their trade in the League of Ireland.

Opportunity

Top-level football doesn’t have to be the desired outcome for all players who come through the system. Many who have featured in the system have been able to use their League of Ireland experiences to earn college scholarships, further their career opportunities and even travel abroad to coach or play.

Too often we hear of stories of young Irish footballers not making at academies in England and Scotland before returning home without any meaningful qualifications. This is changing, players such as Neil Farrugia (Shamrock Rovers), Jamie McGrath (Dundalk F.C) and Ryan Manning (QPR) have shown that attaining a leaving certificate and/or completing a university degree can provide you with a back-up plan to football whilst also furthering your football career.

Local

Lorcan Murnaghan, a graduate of the Cavan/Monaghan academy combines studying Health and Performance Studies in UCD with playing for Warrenpoint Town in the Northern Irish Premiership. Aaron Mulligan, an under-17 player has been capped internationally whilst Bradley Okaidja was selected for an under-19 international trial.

Aaron McCabe, another who has come through the system before moving on to Longford Town has broken through into the first team as they continue to push for promotion to the Premier Division.

Pathway

Eamon McGlone, now the Head of Youth development for the Cavan/Monaghan Football Partnership has plans to introduce a curriculum detailing the desired outcomes of the academy along with designing a player specific development plan.

McGlone, is also looking for those who would like to coach or even volunteer to aid the development of these teams. Commitment and ambition are required, but not only is this an opportunity for young players to develop but also for coaches who can learn and adapt quickly.

Education

The opportunities for development through football are numerous. If you would like further information, Tom O’Connor has written a fantastic article on extratime.ie regarding the League of Ireland pathway in conjuncture with education. Mark Scanlon, who is the current FAI National Coordinator for Schools, Colleges and Universities spoke at a function ran by the foundation earlier this year highlighting the importance of continuing education whilst playing football.

Structures

The preservation of these structures is vital for the area. The opportunities which are being provided for young people are crucial to the development and success of the organisation. Even without a senior side who compete in the League of Ireland, it is proven that there are numerous opportunities for players to go and play at other clubs both north and south of the border.

Academies who are without senior sides suffer from a lack of funding to maintain their teams which needs to be rectified by those in charge of FAI funding. There is great work being done in areas with competing underage League of Ireland teams such as here in Cavan-Monaghan and both Kerry and the Carlow-Kilkenny regions.

Human development

Sport can provide one with a pathway not only to further their career in a sporting context but also in a professional context. Malachy Clerkin, one of the countries most revered sports journalists, wrote last year of how someone like Sean McCaffrey inspired him in a footballing context, which then motivated him to follow his chosen career path and become extremely successful at it. This demonstrates that while score-lines can be important at the time, it is often life experiences we gather which are most important.

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