When Wim Koevermans departed as a High Performance Director of the Republic of Ireland in 2012 and was then replaced by compatriot Ruud Dokter, the FAI opened themselves up to a double Dutch tagline that was surely going to be used more than it has been to date.
And ten years on from the orange invasion of our infrastructure it appears that neither Ruud nor Mr. Kovermans could so much as doctor a whim to battle the status quo.
While Martin O’Neill is very much the go-to figurehead of Irish football when we as a nation need to vent our frustrations, the problem lies deeper – and more PR has been put into the success of underage sides than into O’Neill himself.
But does it stand up?
Well, Dokter occasionally pops up with some wild statements when he feels he can justify his job title with undoubtedly pre-rehearsed ramble. He did so this week in an interview with the Irish Sun. So let’s dissect his revitalised view on the country’s footballing development.
He said: “What you can see with our national leagues and underage teams, there’s now 13 in Tom Mohan’s Under-19 group home-grown. Colin O’Brien’s Under-17 group, I believe there’s only one player from the UK.
“That’s a sign of opportunities and development of the players in our country. You can’t rely on the best players going to England because it’s very difficult for players to break through in that system.”
This is notable because he’s using the underage systems of League of Ireland clubs as a clear pathway to improved football development. Prior to the development of underage leagues at national level, talent came from DDSL clubs. That’s why you’ll hear of players’ previous clubs being brilliant conveyor belts like St. Kevin’s Boys, Belvedere St. Joseph’s Boys.
And while they’ve developed players superbly, they’ve had to get up and leave the country’s non-existent pathway to the next level for England – a system in which too many get lost and forego their own development for the sake of a national system in England that loses nothing by marginalising them.
So, in that sense – Dokter is correct. But as always, there’s more to the picture than is spoken about to media.
League of Ireland clubs should ideally be self-sufficient and not require subsidies from their governing body – but the lack of marketing the League of Ireland gets at senior level means that money is barely available to field senior teams, let alone a progressive chain from U13 level right up to top-tier.
The quality of coaching in this country is not guaranteed to equate to England’s level, though – but we have a UEFA Pro license course available through the FAI and participation levels are up. You also need to remember that in order to manage in the Championship, you only require a UEFA A License but you need the level above to manage a League of Ireland Premier Division side.
So, to credit Dokter – he’s aware that time is required and patience is paramount. But realising that your national league is the be all and end all – if you want to develop in-house as opposed to relying on kids who have some semblance of Irish heritage to suddenly discover those undertones or the English FA half-helping – is the next step.
Graham Burke became the first League of Ireland capped in over a decade this year. That’s progress. It also shows that the domestic game is worth investing in. In order to have a strong Ireland team, there needs to be a strong Irish domestic scene – and people need to support it.
In the past, the two have never been intrinsically linked, but under Dokter’s best-laid plans, it has to become the prime target.
Countless grounds in the country are in disarray and lack a surface befitting of Ireland’s future stars. The funding needs to start there and filter down, as opposed to the approach the governing body has taken.
A strong League of Ireland equals a strong Republic of Ireland national side, no matter how hard that is to hear for a population and a footballing identity that has relied on hollow English hyperbole for far too long.