Governance issues at centre of dispute between SFAI and Dublin schoolboys’ and girls’ league

Elite under-14 squads from DDSL not allowed to compete at Gaynor and Kennedy cups due to league’s refusal to pay affiliation fees

The DDSL is the biggest youth league in the country, facilitating almost 50,000 children

The FAI has yet to implement recommendations included in an independent report from 2022 by the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) that said the governance structures of the Schoolboys/girls Football Association of Ireland (SFAI) are “not fit for purpose”. The FAI funded the IPA report.

The association hopes that Marc Canham’s player pathways plan, if implemented in full, would address much of what Canham calls the “inconsistent approach to underage football” in Ireland.

In the meantime, senior members of the association will meet the SFAI leadership on Monday to try to resolve an ongoing dispute between the Schoolboys’ board and the Dublin and District Schoolboys/Girls’ League (DDSL).

The DDSL is the biggest youth league in the country, facilitating almost 50,000 children, but last week its director of football Barry Ferguson informed the elite under-14 squads that they would not be attending the Gaynor and Kennedy cups in Limerick next month.


The dispute centres around the DDSL refusing to pay affiliation fees for the past three years, citing a lack of representation in SFAI governance structures.

Parents of DDSL players contacted The Irish Times last week to express their disappointment, following seven months of weekly trials and sessions at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown to prepare them for the Gaynor and Kennedy competitions.

“I don’t care if my daughter goes to Gaynor or makes the DDSL squad, but I want these men – and the dispute at administrative level is between men – to treat her fairly,” said one parent who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s fallen apart at the seams, there is no joined-up thinking here. This is the very age that girls drop out of sport, as they have their studies with the Junior Cert.”

In 2022 the FAI commissioned the IPA to conduct a governance review of the SFAI. After 17 people directly involved in Irish football were interviewed, including former FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill and current board members Tom Browne and Ursula Scully, 11 recommendations were presented to the FAI and the SFAI to ensure good governance. Browne is the SFAI representative on the FAI board.

The IPA report states that most interviewees agreed the SFAI rule book was “not fit for purpose”.

“The apparent lack of a strategic plan raises serious concerns about direction, control and longer-term purpose of the SFAI,” read the report.

Under the topic of “culture” the report added that the “tone and climate” at SFAI meetings occasionally led to “adversarial engagement on topics and a possible sense of some contributors seeking to dominate proceedings”.

FAI intervenes in stand-off between underage soccer leaguesOpens in new window ]

Under the headline “Girls” the report said that “the role of schoolgirls’' teams and leagues needs to be formally recognised within the [SFAI] rule book,” adding that “schoolgirls football should be an integral part of the purpose, vision and strategic priorities of the SFAI to embed a greater culture of equality and inclusivity”.

“The need to urgently commence a process to agree on a strategic plan for the SFAI, which aligns with the FAI 2022-2025 strategy, is a key recommendation of this review.”

The SFAI and the FAI were both approached for comment.

Meanwhile, Siptu members in the FAI will attend the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on Friday as they seek to resolve their pay dispute with the association.

“The staff of the FAI have experienced many issues in recent years but the right to collectively bargain with our employer should not be one of them,” said Paul Keogh, the Siptu shop steward at the FAI.

“The FAI has negotiated collectively with referees, the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland and the women of the senior national team, so what the staff are simply asking for is equal treatment. What we have proposed in terms of pay rises reflects the financial situation of the association of which we are very conscious.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent