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Brexit baptism of fire for new FAI

Quinn sees big opportunity for League clubs to flourish

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FAI interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn knows there is a hell of a job to do in a post-Brexit landscape

FAI interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn knows there is a hell of a job to do in a post-Brexit landscape

SPORTSFILE

FAI interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn knows there is a hell of a job to do in a post-Brexit landscape

"We can't turn water into wine," said Niall Quinn yesterday in his new role as a spokesperson for the League of Ireland.

Quinn was front and centre at the media day to mark the start of the 2020 season, a contrast from previous years when John Delaney posed for photos and Fran Gavin did the interviews.

The latter's contribution this year was a few quotes in a press release, whereas the freshly appointed interim deputy CEO was the face of the FAI and clearly steering this ship now.

He is assuming control at a fascinating time.

The water to wine line was in the context of the need to look at funding streams to the League of Ireland, with Quinn offering his view that the league was given a raw deal under the old regime.

It is fair to say that a lot of the things he spoke about have been touched on before; principally the need to create academy structures so we can provide good options for our teenagers that allow them to gain an education both on and off the park before they go to another jurisdiction.

"We would like every club with a strong academy playing national league football at underage levels and the quality coaches we have working with the elite," said Quinn, "So (you have) the elite players getting hours of fabulous coaching."

In theory, it sounds great, but in practice Ireland is some distance off having proper foundations in place although certain clubs - with Shamrock Rovers leading the way - are trying to offer a viable alternative to emigration.

What few anticipated was Brexit barrelling into the picture to remove choice from the equation. The FAI have no reason to believe that Ireland will be granted an exemption to FIFA rules which basically state that European teenagers aged 16-18 can only move to another EU country.

Therefore, England is off the agenda from later this year. Promising starlets born in 2005 must stay in Ireland until they turn 18 unless continental clubs come calling.

Perhaps the super powers will find a way to move the families of the next Troy Parrott or Adam Idah or Aaron Connolly over to circumvent rules but that would be a big commitment for sides further down the food chain.

As Ireland gets excited about the potential of what might be a vintage generation, it's fair to ask if the next crop will ferment to the highest standard without the option to continue their football schooling in a Premier League structure.

Other sides have tried to follow the lead of Rovers by signing promising 16-year-olds to professional deals, but it would be a stretch at this juncture to say that the football industry here is remotely ready for the responsibility.

This should be a source of motivation rather than a reason to panic. A full examination of the subject must ask what it might mean for the less fortunate ones who leave at 16 and come home with nothing.

This contingent is lower in profile and greater in quantity. Parents who have expressed concern may not realise that for their son, it could to be a blessing in disguise.

Quinn said he likes the idea of players not being able to go away until they are 18 because it means that academic concerns will have to go hand in hand with any initiatives.

"We have to prove there is an elite programme here that you can be proud of," Quinn continued. "I would take confidence that even in a sometimes chaotic regime, we were still able to bring through the players who are now showing their talents across the water."

This proves that schoolboy clubs here have coaches who are able to take raw material and bring youths to a level where they are attractive to the big fish in a global market.

What has to happen now is a knitting together of the strands in the game so that they can all feel involvement in the post-Brexit reality.

The best coaching minds have to be spending time with the best players and better relationships between factions of the game have to be fostered.

Forced marriages of schoolboy and League of Ireland clubs must be replaced by constructive relationships; the moving of the goalposts will affect compensation terms and conditions and it is in the interests of all parties to find common ground.

What must transpire is a coherent plan that aligns top coaches with the early blooming stars to ensure that they don't end up viewing Brexit as a checkpoint to their improvement.

"The way I would put it now is the new-look FAI is now an enabler for the League of Ireland, it is not a blocker. That's quite important," said Quinn.

They've got a hell of a job on their hands. And precious little time to properly make the most of a game-changing opportunity.