Friday, May 24, 2024

‘The politics within Irish football is unbelievable’ – FAI assistant director of football Shane Robinson

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Marc Canham’s number two suggests that board and President Paul Cooke need to reaffirm support for Football Pathways Plan.

Robinson left the Shamrock Rovers academy six months ago to start a new role as assistant to Marc Canham and in his first press briefing since making the move, the Waterford man offered strong views on the climate he has entered.

While he acknowledged that the hunt for a new manager and issues surrounding outgoing CEO Jonathan Hill have functioned as a major distraction, Robinson also chose to bring up the role of the FAI’s board of directors in offering support to Canham’s FPP proposal which has met from opposition in different parts of the country due to a move towards calendar year football and the introduction of an integrated football pyramid amongst other initiatives that would alter the status quo.

Canham’s presentation of the plan to the FAI’s general assembly consisting of delegates from around the country did not run smoothly. A significant talking point came at the end of the meeting when President Paul Cooke took the microphone and suggested that he had told Canham that nobody would be forced to do anything they didn’t want to do. This has been raised in subsequent meetings around the country.

Robinson feels the FPP plan is ‘common sense’ because it would put the needs of players first, while acknowledging that it may not suit everybody. He made an unprompted reference to Cooke in the context of a broader comment about the board role, but did not specifically address follow-up queries about the President’s intervention at the meeting which exasperated staff members.

“It’s supported publicly by the board at the moment,” said Robinson, with respect to the core outline of the FPP plan.

“That message needs to be really, really clear. That it’s supported by the board. That it’s supported by Paul Cooke. It needs to be drove home. There are elements of it that we’re consulting on to try and work with areas and regions and tweak it a little bit.

“It doesn’t suit everybody and it’s never going to. That’s the hardest bit.”

Robinson admitted that his new beat is very different to his old role where the sole focus was Shamrock Rovers.

“As you’re well aware, the politics within Irish football is unbelievable at the moment,” he said.

“The one thing we lack in this country is common sense, in terms of when we’re dealing with football and sport and putting the player first. It’s about thinking – about what people who partake in the game need. We’ve let politics get in the way of football here for probably 25 years.

“Now we have a framework to work that is common sense and it’s trying to bring everyone together. That’s been the hardest part of the job

“I think everybody needs to put that to the side, I look at the League of Ireland side, I’ve been really close to it. In terms of having 20/21 clubs. Should we do five (academies) right? Should we do ten right? They’re the hard conversations we need to be having, and not shy away from it. Not everybody will like the conversation but they are the conversations that need to be had.

“Croatia invest heavily in five academies. Are 20 clubs investing the same in youth development in this country? We’re not. The solidarity payment (from UEFA) is for youth development. There needs to be criteria put in place and audits of how that money is distributed.”

In a wide-ranging chat, Robinson said that progression of the FPP plan is more important than issues that have been making the headlines such as the hunt for a new men’s senior team boss – which he hasn’t been involved in – and the furore around Hill.

He echoed the view of Damien Duff that Pep Guardiola could be hired and it wouldn’t make a difference unless the foundations were improved and that requires presenting a united front to government.

The ex-League of Ireland player highlighted the need for all parts of the country to be on the same page, a key aspect of the FPP plan which has met with opposition on account of local factors.

While the Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL) moved away from summer football despite Ruud Dokter’s attempts to bring it in, Robinson did point out that they have adopted other ideas that explain why players from the capital are faring well in underage squads. He referenced how the DDSL have embraced smaller-sided games and offer a more extensive fixture list than leagues in other regional centres.

“The same is not happening in the likes of Waterford where I grew up compared to Dublin,” said Robinson. “Cork could be doing better. They are playing bi-weekly games at 8,9,10,11 and Dublin are playing weekly games, they’re playing double the amount in the course of a year. Multiply that over four years.

“Playing more is at the heart of the FPP, different experiences. Limerick hasn’t had a senior international in over 30 years. We need an integrated system where you can be born anywhere and have the same opportunity.”

Robinson reiterated that there are no plans to introduce professional academies for kids in the 8-12 age group and stressed that he welcomed kids playing all different sports, viewing that level of activity as an advantage rather than a hindrance.

“What is happening before the (League of Ireland) academies is equally critical to the success of the academies,” he said, “Ultimately we need a plan for the whole game because that’s the direction we want to go – leave politics at the front door and work on what’s best for Irish football, and best for the players within it, male and female

“I suppose the politics, the mismanagement of the association over the last 20 years, everyone in the room knows it has been mismanaged, we are €40m in debt, we are where we are right now. All parts of the game are going to need to have difficult conversations to do what’s right for the game.”

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