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Monday 20 November 2017

Want to watch Barcelona at the weekend? Take a trip to Santry

Ireland's Jeff Hendrick. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Jeff Hendrick. Photo: Sportsfile

Over the coming weekend if the weather's nice and you're at a loose end, take to a trip to St Kevin's Boys (SKB) ground in Santry and you can watch Barcelona playing football.

That's the big club from Catalonia, the one Lionel Messi plays for.

Playing against them at some point in the weekend will be kids from Dublin who have been doing this every Easter for a few years now.

That's a question for a quiz. Which Irish team has beaten Barcelona?

A year ago, the SKB Under-13s did it and it is a wonderful thing to be able to say that there is currently a batch of young players between 11 and 13 in Dublin who are used to playing against Barcelona.

St Kevin's Academy Cup is a marvellous thing and has grown to something of substance since the first in 2009.

This year they had requests from Japan, New Zealand and America as well as the usual European suspects and the tournament is now very firmly on the international map.

Coaching

"It's growing all right," said football director Ken Donohoe. "The interest is from all over the world now.

"From the kids point of view, it can only be good that they are building up this experience.

"The fact that our Under-13s were able to beat Barcelona proves that our players can stand beside the best anywhere given the right coaching and a good environment," he said.

The current thinking in this country is that our best kids are somehow less talented that those in Spain, Germany, France or just about anywhere else when this is clearly not the case.

As well as Barcelona, this year's tournament includes Deportivo La Coruna, KRC Genk, Olympique Marseilles and West Brom, clubs that could be anywhere else other than Dublin on Easter weekend.

The Spanish clubs rate the SKB event highly enough to return each year and have themselves hosted the North Dublin club.

This is the kind of work which goes on largely unnoticed and unsupported. It is extraordinary that St Kevin's don't have a sponsor for this remarkable undertaking but not surprising.

Given that the continuing emasculation of the elite schoolboy clubs under Ruud Doktor's Development plan and intention to press ahead with an Under 13 league, presumably with entry blocked to anyone without a League of Ireland licence, there is a grave concern now that the baby, the water and the bath are being flushed away to suit dogma.

Imagine if League of Ireland clubs, who will complete their UEFA football pathway by operating under-age teams from under-13 upwards and gain access to funding as a result, sign up entire schoolboy teams as they have done with older age-groups.

Will St Kevin's have any players to put out against Barcelona in three or four years' time. Would Barca even want to come?

Remember, this is the schoolboy club which produced Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick and with very limited resources, were confident and ambitious enough to develop this tournament, long before anyone in the League of Ireland showed any interest in a developmental pathway. Hard to do that when you're fighting for survival, as the League of Ireland is and has been for decades.

There was an excellent insight during the last ten days of how disjointed thinking in the FAI can lead to a bad outcome. For something which seemed almost laughably easy to solve, the FAI walked themselves into a publicity mess.

Instead of just 'fessing up, taking the hit and making absolutely certain that the women's senior international squad was properly treated, the story rages on.

Survival

They have managed to alienate Mná na hEireann and there's plenty of Fir na hEireann watching this in disbelief too. This is a no-win game for the FAI and yet they are still playing.

It feels like the same obduracy is at work in the refusal to entertain the schoolboy case for inclusion in National Leagues up to Under-15 at least.

Ironically, the people doing most of the best work to foster football for females are the same clubs that are being threatened by the FAI's development plan. Logic tells you that if you remove the base, you cannot support any structure and clubs like St Kevin's are now under extreme threat.

So best take the chance to see them (and Barca) now while St Kevin's, having a great season and qualified to SFAI Cup finals at Under-12, 13, 14 and 16, still have enough players to fill shirts.

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