Netherlands-Belgium merger could show Ireland the way forward

David Wilson reporting for the Sean McCaffrey foundation.

As the island of Ireland moves closer to adopting an all-Island league two footballing powerhouses, the Netherlands and Belgium are also exploring the possibility of a bi-nation league.

Geographical proximity is a contributing factor but the financial benefits resulting in a more profitable television rights deal could possibly tip the balance in its favour. As many of us recognise the more established clubs of the region such as RSC Anderlecht, KRC Genk, Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, the smaller clubs will more likely benefit from the merger.

Similar to the Irish plan put forward by the Lucid group, the plan is to merge the two leagues into an 18-team topflight with two further divisions to provide an opportunity to earn promotion to the big leagues.

The lure of regular fixtures such as Anderlecht/Ajax or PSV/Genk could reignite a new interest in the competition and compete against the major top five European leagues. The all-Island league would arguably never compete with La Liga or the Premier League, but fixtures such as Linfield/Derry City or Cliftonville/Shamrock Rovers could draw in a wider audience, not just a football one.

This island can learn from the discussions ongoing in Benelux region, maybe not only in a sporting sense. Money talks, and just like here in Ireland, the finances will determine whether this initiative can develop or not.

Football is more than a game nowadays and marketability is crucial. The Belgian/Dutch merger similarly to Ireland look to tap into a new market and provide advertising and streaming revenues which could be worth millions of euro.

The resulting deliberation after last week’s conference in Dundalk which brought 36 clubs together plus representatives from football associations both sides of the border was largely positive however some were still sceptical.

Linfield FC, Dundalk FC, Warrenpoint Town FC and many others were encouraged by the talks but Belfast team Cliftonville voiced their concerns. Their chairman Gerard Lawlor called it a ‘pipe dream’ and ‘unrealistic at this moment in time’ whilst speaking to the website Belfastlive.

Just like in the Dutch-Belgian deliberations, the debate regarding European qualification spots are still proving to be a bone of contention. Clubs in this island rely on the revenue gained in UEFA competitions, this is not as crucial in the more established European qualified clubs in both the Netherlands and Belgium.

Another stumbling block for both mergers is the possibility for job losses for the ‘blazers’ who currently organise and administrate the leagues. It is feared that NIFL (Northern Ireland Football League) and FAI officials could scupper a move to merge the leagues as this has also been mooted in Brussels and Amsterdam.

While there are many possibilities up in the air regarding the future of organised league football, what is clear that football at the top level in Ireland and the continent could face major modifications in the future.

Monaghan United:An Insight

Monaghan United FC

Monaghan United were founded in 1979, originally playing their games in Belgium Park, before moving to Gortakeegan in 1985. Under the guidance of Sean McCaffrey, the club entered the League of Ireland B Division in 1983/84 season. 

Foundation

They became one of a few clubs which helped form the First Division in the 85/86 season. In the 92/93 season they became the first ever LOI club to gain promotion through the play offs beating Waterford Utd 5 – 2 on aggregate. They have played in the Premier Division on three separate occasions including making the League Cup Final in 2010 losing narrowly 1 – 0 to Sligo Rovers. 

Withdrawal

United withdrew from the LOI in 2012 in order to safeguard their Gortakeegan facilities as they are one of very few LOI clubs that owned their own ground. The decision came during the midst of the mid-season break shortly after knocking FAI Cup holders Sligo Rovers. Gortakeegan now serves as a designated FAI Regional Centre catering for the Emerging Talent squads and school matches.

Players

There have been many notable players who have developed at the club. Some of whom include Aaron Mc Carey, Mark Connolly, Johnny Douglas, James Hand, Noel Melvin (RIP) and Paul Shiels to name just a few.

The club’s efforts have come to fruition as they are now one of the strongest clubs in the North East area with boys’ and girls’ teams at every age group. The programme has also given all local coaches the opportunity to progress in their coach education.

Underage System

At underage level the club boast many competitive sides who play in the Cavan Monaghan Under League – CMUL.

The club has been very successful winning numerous league titles and cups each year. The club established a link with English club Mowbray Rangers from Leicester and for the past three years, teams have travelled over to their International tournament held every May.

Senior

Recently the club decided to create a senior team to play at junior level rather than play in the League of Ireland. The first team now compete and play in the local Monaghan/Cavan League with a large majority of players having come through their schoolboy ranks. 

Together with the increasing popularity of girls’ football which has occurred throughout both Cavan and Monaghan the club has put a major emphasis on the development of this side of their club. The United ladies’ team were successful during the 2010’s and they hope to reach those heights once again.

Off the Pitch

Monaghan United have proven themselves to be more than just a football club. Great strides have been made off the pitch as shortly after the withdrawal from senior football, the club introduced their Football4All programme which made football accessible to every child in the area. It is a non-competitive fun family orientated programme with over 200 boys and girls participating every year.  

United play an integral part in the community with their association of the U3A, a group which caters for over 600 adult members using the Gortakeegan facilities every week.

The club have also linked up with SNAP – Special Needs Active Parents, a local group who cater for families dealing with autism.

Monaghan Utd are also involved with many other projects within the local community such as Garda Diversion Project, Teach Na nDaoine, Errigal Truagh Special Needs, Community Games and the Monaghan Probation Service to name just a few who pass through the Gortakeegan gates every week.

Recently, the Monaghan Phoenix Marathon Festival was held at the Gortakeegan facilities.

Chairman 

The current chairman Ronan Callan together with his management committee continue to develop the club both on and off the pitch. Each year there has been an increase in the number of children and adults using the facilities.

Future

Upgrading of Gortakeegan is very high on the agenda within the club with plans to install new floodlights on the main pitch, upgrading of the astro pitch and the opening of the new Monaghan United Club Shop taking place before Christmas.

2019 marked the 40th Anniversary of the club, a lot has happened over those past few years and a bright future is envisaged thanks to those who continue to volunteer at the club.

All-Island League to be Discussed in Dundalk

David Wilson reporting for the Sean McCaffrey foundation.

Dundalk will host this Thursday the final round of talks as 20 clubs from the Republic of Ireland and 14 clubs from Northern Ireland be presented with the final outline of the plan which could see an attempt at a cross-border league.

Lucid

Kieran Lucid, a multi-millionaire hailing from Kerry, has been working on this vision for over two years, acquiring the expertise of ex-Ireland manager and league of Ireland stalwartBrian Kerr in the process. 

Marketing experts from the business world have also been drafted in along with one-time FA General Secretary Alex Horne along with Stafford Reynolds formerly chairman of Glentoran F.C. 

Clubs

Over the last couple of months there has been contact and meetings with clubs up and down the island. Even areas such as Cavan/Monaghan, Kerry, Carlow/Kilkenny, Mayo and Kildare who are without senior League of Ireland teams have been invited to conventions in the hope of untapping new areas of potential. 

Revenue

With the possible political stumbling blocks which thus idea might encounter, it is hoped that money will talk. Television companies are hoped to provide streams of revenue. We have seen recently the astronomical figures which were bandied about during the purchase of the Premier League and Champions League rights and it is hoped that this money could filter its way down the lower echelons.

The increase of government funding is another angle along with possible cross-border reconciliation initiatives. Over the last year the government has allocated the greyhound industry approximately €15 million, football only receivedless than half of this in 2017 and has had its funding ceased over the last couple of months due to the controversy which has shrouded the organisation.

Uncertainty

There is still uncertainty throughout clubs both in Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Setanta Cup, a cross-border cup competition which is now defunct was received well in the beginning but faltered due to scheduling conflicts.

This November will see the ‘Champions Cup’, a two-leggedaffair which will pit Irish League champions Linfield againstAirtricity League champions Dundalk with a prize fund of £50,000 up for grabs. 

Future

What the future holds for football on the island is still unclear. The all-Island League could be an attractive option to revitalise a possible league team here in the Cavan-Monaghan area. Whatever happens over the next few months there will be many who hope that league football could see itself back in the Cavan-Monaghan area. 

Mohan’s Men Take on the Danes

David Wilson reporting from the Showgrounds in Sligo for the Sean McCaffrey Foundation.

The international break allowed the chance for Tom Mohan and his managerial team to prepare his under-19 team for next month’s first European championship qualifying phase.

Two games took place on the west coast as Denmark travelled to Sligo for a training week combined with two friendly internationals which took place last Friday and Monday at the Showgrounds, the home of Sligo Rovers.

Friday night’s game saw Shercock native Oisin McEntee captain the side, as Mohan got a chance to see his side integrate some new players into the squad for the first time.

The Danes have become an all to familiar sight for Ireland at senior level, however their under-19 side boasts a range of talented players who ply their trade at major Scandinavian clubs such as FC Copenhagen, Brondby IF and FC Midtjylland as well as English clubs Wolves and Brentford.

A spirited performance in the first game saw the home side defeated by one goal to nil as Ahmed Daghim tapped in from close range. The second game took place in a rain-soaked pitch on Monday afternoon where Ireland were defeated by two goals to nil.

Results were not the most important element for the group. A squad of 27 players were called up which gave the chance for Mohan and his backroom staff to impose their style of play on the players as well as taking a closer look at some players who are new to the set-up.

Conor Noß, a player who has appeared for the first team at Bundesliga table-toppers Borussia Mönchengladbach was one of several new exciting players available to Mohan. Harvey Neville, son of Phil, qualifies for Ireland through his grandmother and has played in both the Valencia and Manchester United academies was an intriguing inclusion to the squad.

The League of Ireland was also represented as Sean Bohan, Ross Tierney, Dawson Devoy (all Bohemians), Donal Higgins (Galway United), Ronan Boyce (Derry City) and Thomas Oluwa (Shamrock Rovers) also linked up with the squad during the week.

Speaking after Monday’s game Mohan was disappointed with how the results went but enthused with some aspects of the performances over the two games: “It’s been great, it’s important to see as many players as we have.”

Mohan added, “The important thing was to get a look at the players over the last few days in the games but also in training with a view to the European qualifiers which take place in November.”

The squad will meet in November for tough European Championship Qualifiers against Switzerland, Austria and Gibraltar where they will hope to complete their first stage in qualifying for the under-19 European Championships which take place in Northern Ireland.

Republic of Ireland Under-19 Squad

Goalkeepers: Sean Bohan (Bohemians), Jimmy Corcoran (Preston North End), Bobby Jones (Wigan Athletic)

Defenders: Ronan Boyce (Derry City), Ben Greenwood (AFC Bournemouth), Oisin McEntee (Newcastle United), Mark McGuinness (Arsenal), Mazeed Ogungbo (Arsenal), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Lewis Richards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Timi Sobowale (Manchester City)

Midfielders: Jamie Bowden (Tottenham Hotspur), Barry Coffey (Celtic), Dawson Devoy (Bohemians), Donal Higgins (Galway United), Conor Grant (Sheffield Wednesday), Harvey Neville (Manchester United), Armstrong Oko-Flex (Celtic), Tyreik Wright (Aston Villa)

Forwards: Tom Cannon (Everton), Ryan Cassidy (Watford), Festy Ebosele (Derby County), Alex Gilbert (West Bromwich Albion), Conor Noß (Borussia Monchengladbach), George Nunn (Chelsea), Thomas Oluwa (Shamrock Rovers), Ross Tierney (Bohemians)

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.

Blayney Rovers: 10 Years On

David Wilson reporting for the Sean McCaffrey Foundation.

Last Friday night, the Glencarn played host to Blayney Rovers as they celebrated their 10-year anniversary. An evening of celebration, reflection and engagement contributed to a wonderful night for both club members and supporters alike.

Establishment

The FAI Festival of Football came to Monaghan in 2009, as plans for a new football club in Castleblayney where devised. For years clubs fluctuated in the Castleblayney area before a committee with the help of FAI officer John Crudden established a functioning team to provide football for the area.

Development

Blayney Rovers has developed to more than just a football club. The new development of their own pitch has seen an end to its nomadic years, previously having to play home games in Monaghan or Cootehill. Chairperson Gerry Callan spoke poignantly on stage, declaring they had no home.

The development of the new field in Drumillard has shown the incredible grit and determination of the committee members and volunteers to attain a home facility. The achievement of acquiring this amenity in just 10 years demonstrates the ambition of this club.

Evolution

Next on the agenda is the construction of proper toilet facilities. This is in tandem with the ever-expanding youth structures which are being provided by the club.

As always, the need for volunteers, coaches, as well as players are essential. Without those who organise for the club, football would struggle in the area.

The evolution of girls’ football is another exciting project. Recently, girls’ teams have been set up with the help of some female coaches who have been involved in the educatory coaching pathway.

Tribute

Stephen Marron was also honoured for his amazing contribution to the club. A club stalwart, he undertook many roles such as club secretary, treasurer, CMUL delegate and many more. One of the key driving forces behind the club, his inspiration continues to inspire those who continue his legacy.

Speakers

Annette Hanley and the committee organised a brilliant list of speakers who spoke on a range of topics, not only football matters. Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys spoke of how the club had first developed from her initial involvement. John Crudden also spoke of how his wish of a team in ‘Blayney was now benefitting from the initial organising of the club.

Tradition

‘Mes que un club’ (A Catalan term meaning more than a club), is a slogan entrenched in the traditions of F.C. Barcelona, but also could also be used to describe Blayney Rovers. The club has had its ups and downs over the last ten years, but the club has now developed into an important hub for people to engage, interact and compete all through the medium of football.

Blayney Rovers isn’t just a club for the people of Castleblaney. The club represents the surrounding areas such as Aughnamullen, Cremartin, Doohamlet, Donaghmoyne and more. The club encapsulates people from all traditions and backgrounds and will continue to do so.

Future

The future of the club is bright, Rovers are on the up. They have provided numerous players who have represented the Cavan/Monaghan Underage League and gone on to achieve magnificently on and off the pitch. The awards and accolades which were given out on the night indicate the successes and achievements of the club.

The Sean McCaffrey foundation would like to congratulate Blayney Rovers on ten years, thank them for their invite, and wish them every success in the future.

Sean McCaffrey Foundation support Female Specific Coaching Course

David Wilson reporting for the Sean McCaffery Foundation. 

Forty-four coaches have recently benefitted from a player-development programme conducted by FAI officers John Crudden and Thomas Heffernan. Over the last couple of weeks, the course has been provided at facilities in both Cootehill Harps and Monaghan United, whilst the course itself was funded by the Sean McCaffery Foundation.

The course was specifically aimed at providing education in girls coaching and the development of local players across Cavan and Monaghan. 

2019 has seen a major upturn in the interest of female only football. Last year there were fewer than ten girls registered to play football across both counties, however this year has seen the increase to 200 girls. 

This has been down largely to the great work being done especially by John Crudden and Thomas Heffernan who have driven the initiative to provide girls football at underage level. Also, the clubs involved have given their support to the programme and off the back of it, the Cavan/Monaghan Underage League are investigating the possibility of a structured league in which regular competition can be provided at different age-groups.

The jump in popularity of girl’s football has also been helped by the recent women’s World Cup which was shown across both RTE and TG4 television. Watching women playing at the top level has made it a more accessible game, and whilst Cavan native Leanne Kiernan continues to blaze a trail for both West Ham United and Ireland, the local structures have began to improve substantially since she lined out in boys underage leagues whist playing for Kingscourt and Bailieborough. 

Another example is Bonnie McKiernan. A talented goalkeeper, she was selected for the Kennedy Cup squad which competed at the University of Limerick in June, whilst also being selected for the Gaynor Cup squad by the North Eastern Counties Schoolboy League to compete in themarquee female only competition in Fota in Cork. This newinitiative means that girls like her will be able to compete against each other on a more regular basis and improve under a more qualified standard of specific coaching aimed at the development of girl’s football. 

The work which continues to be undertaken at grassroots level is vital. Many young girls will now have the opportunity to play at regional level, regularly which is not only beneficial for the growth of football but also for the growth of girl’s sport locally. 

The Sean McCaffery Foundation is proud to have been involved in this project and would like to thank those who took part on the course and wish them well in their coaching experiences.