Brian Kerr on the FAI losing interest in the Airtricity League, Euro 2016 and Roddy Collins

Ruaidhrí Croke chats to Brian Kerr about the current state of Irish football, both internationally and domestically.

Kerr feels the FAI has let the League of Ireland down.
Kerr feels the FAI has let the League of Ireland down.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WHEN RODDY COLLINS and John Delaney once again stirred the never-ending ‘state of the League of Ireland’ debate with their comments last year it brought up a lot of questions on the FAI’s management of the domestic league and the overall quality of it.

Delaney called the League of Ireland “a problem child” for the FAI while Collins said the public are deluded as to its quality and that no player from the FAI Cup final would make it in England.

“It badly needs people who have a passion for it and care about it to be involved. At the moment I don’t get the impression that there’s a lot of either,” former Ireland manager Brian Kerr tells me.

Passion for the domestic league is certainly not something that Kerr lacks. The 61-year-old managed St Patrick’s Athletic for 10 years and has long championed the League of Ireland.

The well-documented problems encountered since the FAI assumed management of the league, most notably the fact that seven clubs went bust in a space of six years, has seen the governing body come in for a lot of criticism. Speaking to Kerr believes it’s a simple fact that those who run the league have steadily lost interest in it.

“In the early years it was a good thing [the FAI taking over] with the prize money increasing and the television deals. But my impression is that, in recent years, the FAI has lost interest in it. Last season little interest was shown in promoting the league or the FAI Cup. The promotion of the Cup in particular was shambolic.”

FAI-Banner St Pat's fans made their feelings clear with this banner two seasons ago.

One of the more well received points put across by Collins during those now infamous comments made to Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio concerned the dreadful state of facilities at many of the country’s grounds.

Kerr feels that the FAI’s failure to act with regards such matters has been a big let-down.

“The lack of investment in the grounds in recent years by the FAI who allegedly run the league and the lack of help they’ve given clubs in terms of facilities in particular has been very poor form.”

On Collins’ assessment of the quality on show in the FAI Cup final (a final that featured a player who has made 58 appearances in the Premier League) Kerr was particularly scathing.

“I wouldn’t take a lot of interest in or give a lot of respect to that opinion. I think anybody with a keen eye for football, who looked at that cup final, would have said it was a very competitive match with a lot of good players on the pitch. For anyone to suggest to me that players like Christy Fagan or Chris Forrester or the like wouldn’t be able to play in the lower divisions in England I’d have to say that they don’t have a clue about football.”

But what is the solution for the League of Ireland? It’s probably the most common question posed in any domestic league debate in this country and the only thing that’s certain is that there is no easy solution.

One idea that has been touted around, particularly in the last year, is that of abolishing the failing First Division and having 16 teams in one league.

“Going to one league would be disastrous. The idea of no promotion or relegation just wouldn’t work. I remember when we had that years ago and what happened then was that, once teams were out of contention for Europe, they reduced their wage bill by letting players go and a lot of the games towards the end of the season were non-events because there was no danger of relegation,” says Kerr.

FAI CEO John Delaney 26/7/2014 FAI CEO John Delaney has spoken about the possibility of combining the two leagues. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

That’s that idea well and truly discounted for by the former St Pat’s director of football and the possibility of having a number of ‘B’ teams in the First Division (as was seen with Shamrock Rovers last year) doesn’t hold much water with Kerr either. So what is a plausible plan of action?

“The first division is disastrous in its current make-up but we’ve got to retain it. A split form might work with a northern and southern league, similar to the conference in England where it’s more regionalised and cuts down on the travel but there’s still an incentive for clubs the get to the next level. At the moment it’s not attractive for teams to come in because the travel is too much.”

“It’s our national league and it produces the teams that play in Europe, which hugely effects our co-efficient,” he says. “It deserves investment and promotion which, unfortunately in the last few years, it hasn’t had at all.”

That co-efficient is hugely important to the FAI as it effects the national team — the subject we move onto next.

At this stage in qualifying for Euro 2016 Kerr feels that Ireland are at a pivotal point, especially after the defeat to Scotland in their last qualifier.

“I felt from the start of it that it might well come down to the last couple of games with Germany and Poland. Obviously the Scotland result was a set-back but it can be fixed if we do our stuff in the home game against them. The best situation for us is if Germany get their act together and run away with the group and then it’s back to between Scotland, Poland and ourselves.”

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Possibly the most scrutinised element of the national team over the last year has been that of the coaching partnership, in particular Roy Keane’s role within the team.

The release of Keane’s book just days before the Euro 2016 qualifying double header against Gibraltar and Germany drew many raised eyebrows as fans and pundits felt it might impact negatively on the team. Kerr feels it was possibly the wrong time for Keane to do what he did.

“I think it probably makes it difficult for the manager. All of the talk surrounding the book in the build-up to the Gibraltar and Germany games would have been a problem for the manager. I don’t think it was the ideal time to do it but they got away with it and got the results.”

Roy Keane with his new book 'The Second Half' Many people, including Kerr, questioned the timing of the release of Keane's book. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Keane’s temperament and ability to be effective in a number two role was also questioned when the new coaching team was announced. As the man who brought the former Ireland captain back into the international set-up in 2006 Kerr knows Keane’s temperament well but he feels it is more the media attention surrounding the Corkman that may cause problems.

“I said at the time, when he was appointed, that he was going to have to adjust his approach and get used to being in the background. But because of the publicity surrounding him that hasn’t always been the case. I wondered a bit about Steve Walford and Steve Guppie coming in when it looked like Roy was going to Celtic because I’m not really sure what all their roles are.”

Before we finish our chat the conversation inevitably leads back to the League of Ireland — Kerr’s true passion. He stresses that there are no simple solutions to fix the league’s problems but that what’s needed is more people who really care about it to be in charge. He’s correct, but unfortunately few match the Irish footballing passion of Brian Kerr.

Brian Kerr is speaking at an event along with Johnny McDonnell and Pat Fenlon in the Stillorgan Orchard pub this evening (21 January). More information available here.

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