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Where has Ireland’s soccer talent gone?

‘If we don’t get the funding we need, things will just continue as they are’ warns the FAI’s academy development manager

Gavin Cummiskey has some stark figures for us. Twenty years ago, there were 33 Irish footballers playing in Europe’s top five leagues, last season there were just 16 - and a good bunch of them were getting limited enough game-time. Little wonder, you might conclude, that our national team isn’t having the happiest of times. “If we do not get the funding we need, things will just continue on as they are,” he heard Will Clarke, the FAI’s academy development manager, warn at his annual presentation where he outlined just how far Ireland has fallen behind its European neighbours when it comes to player development.

In rugby, Gerry Thornley talks to Irish co-captain Sam Monaghan ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations finale against Scotland in Belfast, and he also hears from Terenure’s Conor Phillips in the build-up to Sunday’s All-Ireland League final against Cork Constitution. And Johnny Watterson talks to Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue as he prepares for a URC meeting with the Lions.

In Gaelic games, after attending the Munster football semi-final between Waterford and Clare last Saturday, Ciarán Murphy writes about the “noble ambition” of players who keep on keeping on, even if it’s unlikely that they’ll enjoy too many days in the sun with their counties. Gordon Manning catches up with former Louth goalkeeper Colm Nally who is now “behind enemy lines”, part of the Kildare coaching team that is preparing for Sunday’s Leinster semi-final against…Louth. Gordon also brings us a guide to next Tuesday’s draws for football’s All-Ireland championship and Tailteann Cup.

Ian O’Riordan, meanwhile, looks ahead to Paul O’Donovan’s prospects at the European Rowing Championships where he will be dipping his toe in to heavyweight waters, and he talks to Sharlene Mawdsley who will part of the Irish relay teams attempting to secure Olympic qualification in Nassau the weekend after next.


And in his America at Large column, Dave Hannigan writes about “the least famous best player the modern NBA has ever had”, namely Nikola Jokic. The Serb is “playing at a preternatural level that has seen him compared to all-timers from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Larry Bird,” but he has zero interest in fame or celebrity. “When I finish my career, I really wish nobody knows me.” “A burgeoning highlight reel ensures that will be easier said than done,” Dave concludes.

TV Watch: Rory McIlroy partners Shane Lowry at the Classic of New Orleans, the PGA Tour’s only official team event (Sky Sports Golf, 1pm-11.30pm). And the latest instalment of the Premier League title race comes from Brighton this evening, Manchester City the visitors (Sky Sports, 8pm).