Dunne: Factory system makes joyless robots
Ex-Ireland skipper blasts ruthless Academy cuts for six-year-olds
It's never less than educational to spend time in Richard Dunne's company and this time, the tale he had to tell was remarkable.
Before he spoke, he was whacking balls of various shapes and sizes on the Leinster Rugby all-weather in Donnybrook as part of a video shoot for Eir's new streaming app alongside John Hayes and Geordan Murphy.
A hurl in The Bull's hand is no more than a match stick and Dunne looked sheepish while he slapped at a sliothar while a man even bigger than him made light work of it.
Hayes took a Gaelic football in his hands and looked equally at ease. It spoke of how sport is part of the fabric of the country, a topic which Dunne also considered when his own son, Tayo, took his first tiny steps into the rough and tumble world of organised football at the tender age of six.
What Dunne and his son found was and remains appalling.
"I've gone around to a few Academies and there's no desire to build a team and let the kids enjoy themselves.
"It doesn't like look it's changing. They just keeping going," said Dunne, shrugging his shoulders.
"There's a club in England that my son (Tayo) went to when we were over there. They had a turnover of 36 kids on one team in six weeks. It was a case of "you might be good but you've not improved in three weeks.
"Not that they weren't good enough, it was because they hadn't improved in two weeks.
"My son was six and they were kicking him out. He was there for six weeks.
"Because they saw small progress in him each week, they kept him but the other kids were told they could stop now. They'll keep the names on their books," he said. "You've got kids from the age of five or six doing the same training. They're trying to find just one; it's like a factory.
"I was at a tournament last week, speaking to the Academy Directors or recruitment people at Everton.
"They were saying their kids train four days per week, including one-on-one sessions, yoga, strength, hand coordination sessions and the game on a Saturday. That's five days per week.
"This was an Under-9 tournament," he said, clearly still aghast at the idea. He has simple advice. Let the kids play. Just enjoy it. Tayo plays for Monaco now. It's great and classed as this big club which must have a great Academy but they're not an Academy. They just train on a Wednesday and play their match of a Saturday.
"For them, it's a case of them deciding whether to spend millions and millions on an Academy, maybe get one player per generation from it, or let the kids enjoy it and at 13 or 14, give them more training.
"A lot of their current first-team players were released from other clubs. They've had all the Academy training and Monaco just took them on for free.
"For my son, he's enjoying it and still wants to go out on the road every day to play with his friends.
"I could imagine if your son is training for two hour every day, four days per week, then there's not much room for him to enjoy it.
"I wouldn't do it or recommend it but it's the way football is going and people might say if you're not in, then you're never going to make it.
For Dunne, the way forward is back in the past.
"I've heard Robbie (Keane) and Damien (Duff) speak before about being a street footballer. It's what people want.
"That's where you get the freedom to express yourself but also the hardness from playing against older kids of 15. You get battered and you're falling, getting balls buried at you, but you just keep going. You lose and lose whereas in these academies it's all winning.
"It's because Germany did it and then Spain did it. Generations come around, the likes of Iniesta, all of those players were just a generation of footballers that were just incredible.
"It wasn't solely down to the training. You can do the same training for the next ten seasons but it doesn't mean you'll win the World Cup again.
"It's the same with Ireland. Robbie (Keane) and Damien (Duff) came through at the same time and it's unusual.
"But is this because they had all this great training or is it because they played freely and just enjoyed themselves? They were just talented.
"Academies? They tick boxes, don't they? If players fail, at least they can say they've done everything."