Shiels spot on in defence of Derry City FC
Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS.
Often criticised but never deterred from stating his honest opinion, Derry City manager Kenny Shiels yesterday released an open letter in the local press highlighting a number of ongoing issues within Derry football, particularly what the former Kilmarnock manager seems to suggest is a resistance from junior clubs in allowing their brightest talents to make the step up to the League of Ireland. And that’s exactly what a player moving from his local junior side to the “Candystripes” is…..a step up in standard, a huge step up in professionalism & fitness levels and as a result a greater opportunity for that player to make a name for themselves in the game domestically and off the back of that perhaps even abroad through a dream transfer.
I can already hear the lifelong junior club men out there shouting at their computer and mobile screens “that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for years.” and they would be right too. Historically the best route for talented young footballers on the Island of Ireland into the British leagues was via their junior clubs. You only have to look at the likes of St.Kevin’s Boys in Dublin, who produced and sold on the likes of Robbie Brady, Damien Duff, Ian Harte, Stephen Carr and so many more future Irish internationals to British clubs to realise where professional clubs were sending their scouts for the very best in Irish talent.
However, the days of sixteen-year-old Irish footballers leaving their family, friends and home towns before breaking into British club sides are now well and truly gone given the international scouting networks and almost bottomless pits of agents and scouts recommendations available to professional clubs across the water. Again, I can hear the staunch supporters of the junior system crying out at recent examples of Irish players that have signed for British clubs thanks to their “development” of these kids, but you only have to examine the ever growing trend of rejected Irish talent returning home to play in the League of Ireland before finding their feet and often their love for the game again before returning to British football as success stories to see the traditional junior route into English/Scottish football is a dying way.
Rejection, depression and falling out of love with football and sometimes even life itself is not something many of these junior clubs will make hopefuls aware of. Instead it is always about the players who made it, while the forgotten ones are exactly that, forgotten. All you have to do is look at current Irish internationals such as Graham Burke and Seani Maguire to see prime examples of clearly talented youngsters, who for one reason or another failed to settle in England before finding their best form in the top level of football in Ireland, the League of Ireland, prior to bursting back onto the scene in England at an extremely high level.
Given Kenny Shiels comments yesterday, perhaps it is best to use a former Derry City star as an example of why junior clubs do indeed have a purpose but that purpose is no longer selling kids to British clubs in order to make a quick buck, no, the new role for these clubs is to provide a platform for local talent to catch the attention of professional and semi-professional clubs on this Island, who can then allow that player to play meaningful senior minutes, gain valuable experience at a high level against the best of the best in Ireland before earning a move to the glitz and glam of full-time football in England. Ronan Curtis has recently become a household name to followers of the English Football League after bursting onto the scene with Portsmouth, following his move from Derry City in the summer for an undisclosed fee. Striker, Curtis initially lined out for non-league sides Kildrum Tigers and Swilly Rovers before been picked up by the Brandywell outfit in 2014. James McClean, Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn are just three in a long list of ex-City men to have earned “big time” moves off the back of their experience with the local League of Ireland representatives in Derry and to think some youngsters are currently been deprived of similar opportunities due to political bickering and a thirst for authority and power is quite sickening and it is one of the many reasons Irish football is in arguably its worst state since the FAI basically sold away potential World Cup qualification in 1966 (Click here for more on that via Balls.ie).
Whether you like to admit it or not, sadly the modern game even on these shores often boils down to one basic matter and that is money. Junior clubs fear the introduction of underage leagues at League of Ireland level will cause them to lose their best players and with it the potential for a juicy transfer fee. Even should a more structured compensation system than the one we already have in place be implemented to reward junior clubs for the years of training and game time they put into a player before his move to the local League of Ireland club and subsequent transfer abroad, it is still in the junior clubs eyes far less than they would receive for selling on the player themselves and maybe that is the case. However, no promising young player should be held to ransom and it has been promising to see some of the top junior clubs in the Republic of Ireland forming official partnerships with League of Ireland clubs since the inception of the national underage leagues and that is undoubtedly the best way forward for the game in this country. However, as long as we have situations like the one in Derry still taking place, Irish football will never be rid of the bickering and politics that has set the game in this country back decades and that is to the detriment to everyone who loves Irish football.
What players must Derry City retain over the course of the upcoming off-season if they are to progress as a club and would a poor start next year spell trouble for Kenny Shiels? This very topic was discussed on Series 2-Episode 27 of our hit weekly show, Between the Stripes LOI podcast. Listen to the show now, using the Audioboom player below, or alternatively you can search for Between the Stripes LOI podcast on your favorite podcast platforms such as Itunes, SoundCloud, Spotify and many more.