Siptu members in FAI launch new plan to secure football’s future

‘Towards 2025’ document calls for inclusive structure and community-led development

In the wake of former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr bemoaning the FAI’s ongoing lack of “football expertise”, Siptu members working in the association have released a strategic plan with a “clear agenda” for the development of the game at community and high-performance levels.

“Our members employed in the FAI are passionate about the game,” said Siptu’s Martin O’Rourke on release of the “Towards 2025” document. “They are using their voice also on behalf of the numerous volunteers, who are the backbone of the sport across the country, to call for a new, inclusive FAI structure and community-led development of the game.”

The unionised FAI employees have also written to Minister for Sport Catherine Martin to highlight “the continued refusal of the management of the FAI to engage proactively with Siptu representatives”.

The 10-point plan would compel League of Ireland clubs to affiliate with every underage club in their catchment area to ensure “a common coaching and player development policy”.


“Soccer has progressed in this country due almost entirely to the grassroots clubs who start academies for kids from four years of age and upwards,” said Vincent Butler of Belvedere FC, the Dublin club that produced Wes Hoolahan and Troy Parrott. “This work is now being undermined by the actions of the FAI and League of Ireland clubs who take the most talented 12-year-olds from the grassroots clubs.

“The recent successes of Ireland under-21 teams at international level are due to the work of the grassroots clubs which is now being put in jeopardy.”

Crumlin FC’s Martin Loughran added: “It is time for all the stakeholders involved in soccer in Ireland to stop working against each other and instead work together.”

Kerr, speaking last week about the appointment of Packie Bonner as one of the FAI board’s six independent directors, was highly critical of the association’s recent governance review.

“The FAI badly needs someone with real leadership qualities around the place,” said Kerr. “I’m delighted to hear Packie is now part of the board.

“I understand they needed people with other skills on the board, but it’s the Football Association of Ireland – it has to include people who know about football, not just the administration of the game.”

When contacted by The Irish Times, FAI chairperson Roy Barrett said: “We are very comfortable with recent developments at the association including the election of a new general assembly and a new board, and the appointment of a new CEO. We have addressed both wage deferral and benchmarking issues and we are now deep into a strategy review process led by our CEO, Jonathan Hill, which has involved all FAI staff and will be part of a wider consultation process with the rest of our Irish football community. We are pleased to have made this progress but we are still very aware that this is only the start of our journey.”

Towards 2025 - 10 strategies to develop football in Ireland

1. A national stakeholders' convention involving schoolboy leagues and League of Ireland clubs to discuss the implementation of a new premier and first division league.

2. A new underage League of Ireland involving schoolboy clubs around the country, for under-15 to under-19 teams with promotion and relegation and no age gaps.

3. A national residential academy for elite boys and girls, including a three-year full-time course incorporating the Leaving Certificate. The FAI Abbotstown campus in Dublin to act as a training base, with an educational institution catering for the Leaving Certificate. Players to return to play with their respective clubs at the weekend. A plan to progress to having Education and Training Boards (ETB) FAI academies around the country.

4. Development of a full-time transition year programme, including female-only soccer courses, with local authorities around the country.

5. Investment in Education and Training Boards (ETB) FAI courses which is the only dual-career education programme to ensure players' employability prospects at end of their playing career. A girls-only ETB/FAI player development course to be established in major centres around the country.

6. Employment of a player welfare manager. Restore the duty of care system for players in this country, players abroad and for repatriated players.

7. An all-island premier league to be researched and implemented by 2025. First division to remain as is with promotion and relegation. An under-23s league to be established in the League of Ireland.

8. Schoolboy leagues to have a minimum amount of games every year. An agreed games calendar for boys and girls with a minimum amount of games agreed. Futsal (internationally recognised indoor five-a-side game) development centres and competitions to be established.

9. League of Ireland clubs to affiliate with every underage club in their area for the development of a common coaching policy/player development strategy.

10. A major strategic and employment plan to develop a football/futsal ethos in primary and secondary schools around the country, involving FAI development officers, League of Ireland clubs and grassroots clubs.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent