Maynooth University Town unfazed about the prospect of locking horns with Bohemians

Barry Prenderville points to positive prospects for maturing talents

Maynooth University Town celebrate  FAI  Intermediate Cup  victory at the  Aviva Stadium in 2018. They face Bohemians in the FAI Cup quarter-final. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Maynooth University Town celebrate FAI Intermediate Cup victory at the Aviva Stadium in 2018. They face Bohemians in the FAI Cup quarter-final. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Imagine it is 2031. Fresh from an agonising penalty shoot-out loss to World Cup hosts Morocco, Stephen Kenny signs another contract extension as the FAI ramp up preparations to host an all-island Euros next summer.

The final, at a renovated Lansdowne Arena, will be preceded by semis in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Casement Park.

Under the steady commercial guidance of Jonathan Hill, allied to Roy Barrett’s financial dexterity, the Irish football revolution nears its zenith, mainly due to sustained investment by a Sinn Féin-Labour government, after an Taoiseach Mary Lou McDonald doubled the levy on sports betting and split the proceeds between the horse racing industry and Brian Kerr Soccer Academies.

As a result, late blooming talent like Jamie McGrath becomes the norm. Bohemians, despite a 4-0 humiliation at Camp Nou, where teenager Thiago Messi bagged a hat-trick, switch focus from their Champions League struggles to a Google Cup quarter-final against Maynooth University Town at the sold-out Dalymount Bowl.

In reality, McGrath never played for Maynooth but a sports scholarship led to a business and management degree while the university’s link with St Patrick’s Athletic paved the way for his current existence as Ireland’s creator-in-chief against Portugal and Serbia.

The McGrath story is well told. Signed by Kenny in 2017, Dundalk lost the 23 -year-old to St Mirren in January 2020. The Athboy native drew the attention of English Championship clubs during the recent transfer window thanks to 17 goals and six assists in Scotland last season.

“If I had my time again, knowing what I know now, I would definitely have taken the UCD scholarship to play for Pete Mahon,” says Barry Prenderville, Maynooth’s soccer development officer, on the sliding doors moment in his own football career.

It was 1998 when the Cherry Orchard defender did the Leaving Cert before joining Coventry City.

“I wasn’t mature enough at 17 or 18 to live away from home,” he remembers. “What the university experience does is it gives players the opportunity, in a not so cut-throat environment, to grow up a little and find out who they are. At the end of that process, when they are 20, 21, and they have League of Ireland experience, they can go to the UK on a decent contract.”

Two stints

The argument is reinforced by 18-year-old Emma Raducanu squeezing a US Open title between her A Levels and donning Chanel at the Met Gala.

“If you go very young it will not be a good contract but if you go at 21, we are seeing good contracts,” says Prenderville, name-checking former Maynooth students Danny Grant at Huddersfield Town and Luke McNally at Oxford United.

“Maybe this is the future of Irish football. Definitely, there needs to be more links to education. We need to provide an alternative to leaving home, be it male or female, while they are still children. I have seen so many lives badly affected by going away at such a young age.”

The 44-year-old offers an example that proves the rule. Himself.

“For every Stephen Carr, who was a star, there are 20 lads who went over at the same time who it didn’t work out for.”

Prenderville had two stints in the UK, passing Robbie Keane on the way out the door, as Coventry loaned him to Hibernian before a tough stint at Ayr United meant a return to St Pat’s.

“After six months I went back over to Oldham Athletic for a few years but at about 26, 27 I could have stayed in England, and possibly should have, but I had had enough of trying and injuries. I knew I was a good player but I didn’t have any luck.”

Two decades later, the cut-throat environment is worse than ever.

“It’s savage,” he says.

Technical standard

It is autumn 2021. Bohemians shake off the disappointment of falling to Greek giants PAOK in qualification for the third tier of European football. Ireland under-21 manager Jim Crawford openly states that Bohs trio Andy Lyons, Dawson Devoy and Ross Tierney are of the same technical standard as his players at Premier League and Bundesliga clubs.

“We are trying to get footballers an education,” Prenderville adds. “The rugby and the Gaelic have a head start on us but at least there are options around the country now with ourselves, UCD, Carlow, UCC.

“There is a lot to admire about what Bohs are doing as a club, both in the local community and the connection with DCU, and their facilities.”

From skipper Conor Dunne to former Bohs under-19 captain Alex Kelly, plenty of Maynooth players know the technical standard that is required in tonight’s FAI Cup quarter-final.

“I don’t think playing at a League of Ireland ground is going to intimidate the lads. We played an Intermediate Cup final at the Aviva not too long ago. They won’t be caught in the headlights. You never know, it could be an FAI Cup miracle.”

Or, with a spacious imagination, it could become the norm.

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