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Wednesday 29 January 2020

Hopefuls must hit 'rocky road'

Ex-Ireland prodigy Brady gives advice to footballers' parents

Ex-pro Kieron Brady
Ex-pro Kieron Brady

As fissures open in the world of the FAI, things easily fall through the cracks.

And in a week when hopes of kids, and their parents, across the nation were boosted by the sight of Dubliner Troy Parrott (17) making his Premier League debut, the welfare, long-term career prospects and education of those same kids is one of the boxes not being ticked, the FAI without a dedicated career advice officer since Eoin Hand was let go in 2012.

A group outside of the FAI have organised a conference in Dublin tomorrow aimed at parents of young footballers.

Current and former players, academics and experts in sports science will try and open some minds, debunk a few myths, and tell a few home truths to the parents before their child leaves home to try their luck abroad.

Kieron Brady has enough on his CV to entitle him to a sob story: incredible early talent with Sunderland and the Ireland underage teams, but injury ended his career at the age of 21, before he played 40 games, and he would go on to battle with alcoholism.

Now 47, he is not looking for sympathy even though his career was all near-misses, like being denied an FA Cup final appearance in 1992 and not getting that Ireland cap which he seemed destined for.

"I'd be very confident from the conversations I had with Jack Charlton at the time that it wouldn't have been that long for me to make the breakthrough," says Brady, the Glasgow-born prodigy capped four times at U-21 level (1990-'92).

Injury stopped his progress and he will stress to parents that they need to be prepared not just for the immediate, football-related effects of injury but the psychological trauma.

"I don't think any young footballer envisages a football career ending at 21," says Brady. "In my youthful naivety, I wasn't prepared to enter into any conversations or counselling about the emotional rollercoaster which came later.

"I don't think you need to impress on parents the potential of a career-ending injury, but the depths of despair that come from it need to be looked at. It certainly affected me."

Áine McNamara has spent much of her career researching sport and she has a strong message to parents, that the role sport plays in their child's early career is vital.

She talks of the 'Rocky Road' notion, making kids aware that the path to success is not smooth and that youth athletes need to cope with adversity, not have it kicked out of their way by well-intentioned parents.

"If a young player hasn't had to deal with that along the way, how can they develop the skills they need to be at the top in their sport?"

She points to research into what was defined as three groups of footballers: super-champions, champions and almosts.

The parents of the 'almosts' did everything for the kid, would demand that the kid's coach give him or her more game time. The almosts didn't make it long-term.

"The parents of the super-champions were also enthusiastic and supportive, but they were separated from the young athlete," she says. "It was Johnny's parent. So we'd caution against thinking of yourself as the parent of the Next Big Thing."

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