The last and sixth pillar of Jonathan Hill’s strategic plan to rebuild Irish football has Stephen Kenny’s senior men’s team qualifying for the 2024 European Championships and Vera Pauw’s women either reaching next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand or, failing that, Euro 2025.
Also contained in the FAI strategy (2022-25) is a base standard for both Republic of Ireland teams being consistently ranked in Uefa’s top 30 with all underage sides in the top 20. These are hardly grand ambitions with Kenny’s team the 26th European side in Fifa rankings while Pauw’s charges are 20th.
“It is up to all of us now to deliver a new and progressive association, to capitalise on the governance reforms, the transparency and the clarity of thought and vision that have followed the events of recent years,” said Hill, the FAI chief executive. “We are now an association for the future. And to deliver this strategy, the game needs to come together like never before.
“We must seek to work together, without division or rancour or historical prejudice, to deliver to our full potential in every club, every community, every village, town and city in Ireland. We must give the Irish people a game to be proud of.”
Pillar one intends to transform the football infrastructure across the country by ensuring “high quality, safe and accessible facilities” for everyone. This, the document states, will require working with “central and local government” to “co-fund” what Shelbourne FC manager Damien Duff recently described as “horrific facilities” when compared to the GAA.
“Who is responsible and where has it gone wrong?” Duff wondered aloud. “That’s the future of Irish football and it’s poor, so poor.”
The FAI and Hill clearly agree, with the strategy promising to work with central government, Uefa and Fifa to fund training grounds at all League of Ireland clubs to allow academy structures to grow and create a genuine football industry in Ireland.
The strategy holds ambitious plans to revamp the domestic league with a third division for men’s football in 2023, but how all this can be achieved won’t be clear until an “Infrastructure Plan” is developed by the end of 2023.
“We will work with all our football stakeholders to develop a football industry in Ireland,” said Hill, who pointed to the example set by Belgium football, “that offers our best young talent the opportunity to further their careers in Ireland within a proper industry structure.”
This can only be achieved by ensuring clubs and academies have more full-time staff but, again, how this will be funded by an association with debts of €62 million, still needs to be agreed “as part of ongoing development discussions.”
Another part of the plan that raises more questions than answers is the “regional centres of excellence” and “the potential for a national centre according to need and affordability.” However, the “broader football development infrastructure review process” cannot fully begin until the FAI appoints a director of football to replace Ruud Dokter.
The FAI is putting a huge emphasis on the development of the women’s game with playing numbers to be increased by 50,000, with an increase of 28,500 male players in the same four year period. They even intend to have 300 Uefa licenced female coaches come 2025.
The strategy also aims to have 40 per cent female representation across the board, general assembly and committees by the end of 2023. Currently, there are two women, Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce, on the 12-person FAI board.
“This is a progressive document and we are now very much a progressive board, shaped by the recent governance changes and embracing independent directors alongside traditional football representatives like never before,” said FAI chairman Roy Barrett.
“Thanks to the make-up of this new look board we believe we will deliver the change on and off the pitch that is demanded by all our members across every facet of Irish football to bring this plan to life. We are certainly totally committed to this transformation and we will deliver it in a transparent, productive and engaging manner.
“Success on the field is something we all aspire to for all our teams but the success of this FAI strategy 2022-2025 will be measured in so many other ways.”
And yet, one of the six methods of success is qualification for major tournaments.
The six core pillars of the FAI (2022-25):
- Transform football facilities and infrastructure
- Drive Grassroots football as the heart of the game
- Nurture Football Pathways for All
- Develop the full potential of football for Women and Girls
- Frame a new future of the League of Ireland
- Build for International Success