Friday 24 November 2017

Paul Hyland: DDSL is the solution - not the problem

Blaming schoolboy clubs for Ireland's fall is wrong

Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Rams
Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Rams

THERE is fight on now for football in this country and not because Martin O'Neill can't settle on his best team after eighteen months in the job and Ireland's Euro 2016 fate is in the hands of the fairies.

O'Neill didn't get the win he needed against Scotland and this will be a long and hard road to the end now.

But that has nothing to do with the battle for the game we love. Ireland were better than Poland and Scotland at the Aviva. The players were good enough. They just didn't believe enough and that's down to the manager.

Ireland produces good professional footballers and one of the main reasons, if not the only reason, is that the DDSL continues to function and look after more than 22,000 kids in Dublin.

According to Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady, the DDSL is the problem.

There is a small detail which should be put out there before anyone decides to load responsibility for the fact that qualification ambitions are almost in the bin on the shoulders of the Dublin District and Schoolboys League.

Actually 500,000 small details.

The fine new facility emerging out in Abbotsown which will host our senior international team's training sessions in the Autumn is using up all of those details. The DDSL gave the FAI €500,000 for the project.


It is worth thinking about that for a while. It is very unlikely that the new pitches being prepared for use by our elite professionals would be there now but for that money.

Some of our more celebrated professionals could fund the whole thing if they clubbed together a few months' wages yet it is DDSL money they'll be running on. How ironic?

Across Ireland, lads who run under-age clubs felt their jaws hitting the ground when it was suggested on RTÉ that two men - Fran Ray and Joe Corcoran - and the DDSL were responsible for the fact that Martin O'Neill couldn't win a football match.

But first things first. Ireland were good on Saturday. Stick the second-half against Poland onto the first-half against Scotland and you have the best 90 minutes seen under O'Neill and Roy Keane.

Unfortunately, there was a gap of about three months between those games and on either side of the good stuff, Poland and Scotland got a goal each and consequently, a point each.

It's not over yet but nobody believes that fate will smile so sweetly that O'Neill's fractured approach to achieving consistency can deliver the points Ireland need from Germany and Poland - whether that be, three, four or six.

Plenty believe that Gordon Strachan is more than capable of taking full advantage of the situation his players have created for him and that they will not, as Scotland have done so often in the past, drop the ball.

O'Neill took more than dozen games to find a formation to work with and the same amount of time to finally trust Wes Hoolahan and that, only after Aiden McGeady pulled up lame before the game.

He removed Hoolahan from the action at a time when he still had a lot to give and was needed. He put on Robbie Keane and that was an easy thing to do. It was like flicking a switch. Everything went flat the moment Wes left the pitch.

Wes cut his spurs in the DDSL. So did a big chunk of the current Ireland senior squad and every senior squad stretching back in time.

They supply the vast majority of players for every under-age Ireland team and have always done. They are expected to do this with no help and virtually no funding.

Talk to the big clubs and they will tell you that, too often for comfort, their best players would prefer to stay within their own team environment than spend what they consider to be wasted time in the emerging talent sessions.

It's not because they are shy or lazy or arrogant. It's because they believe that they will do better sessions at their clubs, clubs which are expected to hand over their best kids to an emerging talent programme they have no confidence in and ultimately, League of Ireland teamsthey simply do not rate.

Recently, one League of Ireland Under 17 team in the DDSL had to ring around looking for nets and footballs. They rang one of the clubs now being pilloried and were helped immediately.

That's the true picture and provides the context for this debate.


The professionals will be training on a pitch provided by the DDSL and the League of Ireland seems to have been in cap in hand mode for decades.

For whatever reason, history, politics, environment, these schoolboy clubs have retreated into their own independent state and survive by their own wits.

They operate in some of the most deprived areas in our great little country and meet heroin and cocaine addiction head-on and provide centres of stability. Without them, it is not hard to imagine how bad things would be.

They do work which nobody else will do. For the DDSL to be cited on national television as the problem was outrageous.


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