Former Irish footballer Damien Delaney, Bohemians assistant coach Gary Cronin and the Irish Independent’s football correspondent Dan McDonnell joined Johnny Ward on OTB’s Football Saturday this afternoon, examining the state of Irish football as things stand as well as discussing the latest Premier League news.
A tale as old as time- a promising young Irish talent packs their bags to join an academy overseas only for things not to work and be forced to return home, becoming disenchanted with football itself in the process.
It’s one former Irish footballer Damien Delaney is familiar with and is confident that the potential of those young footballers if harnessed correctly could greatly benefit the sport in this country.
“The amount of kids that are coming back from the UK at 20 or 21 disillusioned with football and then they come back to the League of Ireland after being used to a certain standard of an academy and it’s a case that you might have to wash your own kit or that food is minimal after training” he says.
“I know people are making huge strides on that but you’ve got a disillusioned kid coming into an environment like that, you’re not going to help him. There’s a generation that could come back that I firmly believe can be shown a little bit of love, reinvigorated and you’ll get them to fall back in love with football.
Then all of a sudden you’ve got a real asset in the league, not to mention the kids we’re developing ourselves and coming out of school boy football. So facilities, training facilities, stadiums, all of that can be improved, as well as academies obviously.”
Bohemians assistant coach Gary Cronin is also well versed in the reality of the experience, going over to the UK himself as a teenager.
“I went over in 97’, I had my leaving cert under my belt which was a massive plus for me and I realised that when I came home because my younger brother Kevin went over to Leeds for four years and didn’t have his leaving cert so his education was difficult when he got back” Cronin explains.
“He was totally disillusioned with football. He played a couple of seasons of League of Ireland and if he wasn’t making it at the top level he wasn’t interested. But was that it or is it back to the point that Damien makes about that level of professionalism.
“More fellas come back from the UK and realise that it’s not the level of football that they would have dreamed of. From a mental point of view it still goes on to this day. Young players struggle with that failure, that part of not making it in the top league over there. Some of them get on with it but some of them really struggle inside and I’ve seen it.
“They might see a fellow player who’s actually after making it who was their mate over there for three or four years and he’s gone to a level of Champions League football or another really high standard and there mightn’t be much between them talent wise but for whatever reason he’s over there while the other player is back at home.
“Mentally that’s tough and they really need the support network when they come home because it’s not easy.”
Dan McDonnell of the Irish Independent further speaks to the stigma around returning home after a stint abroad.
“You do hear of as well of some lads who almost don’t want to come home incase they don’t succeed here…There’s a sense of ‘well, if I go home and that doesn’t work out then where do I go’ and they’ll continue to hang out there and see where it takes them” he says.
“There’s a thing about coming home that’s almost stigmatized as a negative.”
However, as Delaney points out, that doesn’t have to be the case, highlighting a “huge part of the market Irish football is missing out on.”
“If we changed the perspective of the League of Ireland, say for example guys that get released from the UK at 18 for whatever reason they come back to the LOI for two years and then you start getting them back across the water. If you can start producing a model like that then all of a sudden you become an attractive league, but obviously things would have to change here when it comes to the standard and the pitches” he says.
“You can make it then so players don’t see the League of Ireland as a failure or as a last resort, there’s an appetite then to go home and you’ll get more kids coming back here instead of going into league 2 or say non league football.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there for this league. It’s doing great at the minute and it’s brilliant and it’s really on the up and attendances and everything, but if we could just keep the momentum moving there’s so much potential in this country.”
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