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Sunday 25 September 2016

Kerr's ire points to wider sense of frustration

(l-r) Brian Kerr looks bemused on RTÉ’s Soccer Republic last Monday with fellow panellist Stuart Byrne and Fran Gavin of the FAI
(l-r) Brian Kerr looks bemused on RTÉ’s Soccer Republic last Monday with fellow panellist Stuart Byrne and Fran Gavin of the FAI

Sometimes you just have to let it out.Brian Kerr reached that point this week and it's just a pity more people don't do the same.

Knowing Kerr, he probably feels a bit sheepish but he should not. All he did was tell the truth as he sees it.

He's not a man for gratuitous shows of temper or headline seeking and never has been.

What we saw on Monday night on RTé was a perfect manifestation of the overwhelming frustration felt by many involved in football in Ireland and not just the League of Ireland.

On the surface, there is a veneer of activity and development.

Blitzed

Tipperary was blitzed by the FAI during the recent and entirely laudable festival of football week which has become part of the AGM ritual.

Clubs had courtesy visits from FAI staff and former international greats like Ray Houghton and it all looked great.

But it's not great at all. If you listen to what schoolboy football is saying or to what the League of Ireland is saying and if you look at the very obvious decline in the quality of players the current system is producing, there is something radically wrong with the industry.

It is an industry and a very big one in Ireland. By the FAI's count, 450,000 play the game every week and they all have to buy boots and kit.

They all have to get to their matches and all the ancillary afterwards. Parents know how expensive it is for kids to play football.

The economists tell us that sport generates over €2 billion in the Irish economy annually and football must account for well over half of that.

If everything was working well, the senior game, the League of Ireland, would be thriving and sitting on top of a pyramid fed by healthy schoolboy clubs and centres of excellence.

If you search hard, you'll find outposts of such excellence across Ireland but they are the exception and the League of Ireland doesn't have any.

The League of Ireland lives from hand to mouth and has done for many years. To paraphrase Kerr, female toilets are an issue.

His rant was timely even if not everyone would agree with some of the content.

"Give every club €100,000, instead of €5,000 for a business plan," he said.

Terrible idea. The League of Ireland is a money pit and you might as well throw the cash down a hole.

Irish football is a whirlpool of agendas, self-interest, incompetence and there are no saints in this story apart from a vast movement of ordinary people who give their time freely to run football clubs and the players.

Clubs are businesses and they are not owed a living by anyone. They should have a plan even if the FAI's ham-fisted attempt to lead them by the nose towards some form of business discipline backfired spectacularly.

Maybe it was just ticking a box. Maybe the FAI could have handled their €5,000 grant with a tad more subtlety. But a professional or even semi-professional club cannot function on a day-to-day basis without a structure in place to allow forward planning,

Without it, a club shouldn't be in business at all.

There's the kernel of it. A significant chunk of League of Ireland clubs can't survive on their own and have been propped up for decades when financial reality should have closed them down.

The League of Ireland does not exist in a vacuum. It simply reflects the health of the game countrywide and right now, it needs major surgery.

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