Roy Keane hopes new under-17 league will develop more players

League’s aim is to give players competitive games and stem flow of moving to England

Former Ireland and Manchester United captain Roy Keane played for Rockmount and Cobh Ramblers in Ireland before moving Nottingham Forrest. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

Former Ireland and Manchester United captain Roy Keane played for Rockmount and Cobh Ramblers in Ireland before moving Nottingham Forrest. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

 
Roy KeaneIreland

The the Republic of Ireland assistant manager also thinks that young players need to be open to the idea of exploring different avenues in order to get more time on the pitch.

Keane was speaking at the launch of the SSE Airtricity National Under-17 League in Abbotstown.

The league is part of a player development plan being implemented in Irish football by FAI high performance director Ruud Dokter.

Its aim is to bridge the gap between schoolboy football and the national under-19 league which was put in place in 2011.

Dokter’s plan is to have young players playing competitive games each week “to challenge themselves above local leagues”.

One of the aims of the league is to attempt to limit the number of young players who make the move to the cut-throat world of English football, before finding themselves back in Ireland shortly after.

‘Less opportunity’

“It’s a big industry so it’s vital we have quality leagues in Ireland. Then at a later age when they are more mature they can move to England. What is good – to go to England to sit on the bench or play in Ireland in a quality league?”

Keane, who himself learned the trade playing for Rockmount and Cobh Ramblers before moving to Nottingham Forrest, acknowledges the fact that it is hard to stop a young player who wants to move to England, but he is quick to stress that the most important thing is time on the pitch.

“What suited me was playing LOI for a year or two. But I’m sure if I’d had the opportunity at 16 to go to England there’s a good chance I might have taken it.

“I’ve said it from day one and I keep repeating myself: we need more players playing regularly at the top level. If not Premier League then Championship, but playing. You have to play. Football is about playing, it’s not about training.

“If you have young players in England progressing or going out on loan and doing well then they automatically will put themselves in the shop window for the Irish senior team, because there are players coming towards the end of their careers.

“When you work with lads for one or two years, I’m guessing, players will fall by the wayside.

“When you’ve given them a chance two years ago you’re thinking: ‘How many chances are you going to get?’”

The under-17 league kicks off on Saturday August 8th but will see a truncated opening season – finishing in December, along with the under-19 national league.

A total of 19 of the team’s in the league are current Airtricity League senior sides, while Monaghan United-Cavan FP, Mervue United and Salthill Devon make up the rest of the 22.

One of the fears is that this could have an adverse effect on some of the more traditional schoolboy clubs around the country such as Home Farm, St Kevin’s Boys or, indeed, Rockmount.

Despite this, Airtricity League director Fran Gavin says that there was no opposition at all from any of the schoolboy clubs who responded to the idea.

“We had 26 responses from clubs and outfits and six or seven of those were from the big schoolboy clubs in Dublin. We met them, they presented to us and they were positive about the league. Each of them had their own very good structures but there was no opposition from the schoolboy clubs,” Gavin said.

Football is the most popular sport in Ireland and the FAI often quotes a figure of 450,000 players, coaches and administrators involved in the game.

The challenge

“It is challenging. Ireland is unique because we have four big sports competing and we all draw from the same pool of players.

“But we have the world leading sport and we have to stand up for it and improve it. It’s our responsibility to improve our sport locally.”

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