Shelbourne boss Damien Duff. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Damien Duff says Government's €50m for Casement Park should go to League of Ireland academies

Shelbourne manager admits far more needs to be done to develop Irish players for a future in the game but clubs need backing to provide it.

DAMIEN DUFF REITERATED his belief that the FAI must invest in League of Ireland academies to safeguard the future of both the domestic game and international sides.

The Shelbourne manager also insisted that that the announcement by the Irish Government yesterday that €50 million will be provided for the redevelopment of the Ulster GAA’s Casement Park – despite a final total to complete the project not yet established – in order for it to host games at Euro 2028 lacks common sense given the current dearth of facilities at all levels in Irish soccer.

On the same afternoon that FAI director of football Marc Canham launched his Player Pathway Plan, Duff also demanded quick action rather than empty words to provide the required foundations for the largest participation sport in the country.

“Will Casement Park bring through footballers? Maybe in a roundabout way. Academies for me is where the future of Irish football is,” the two-time Premier League winner said.

“Fifty million euro, how many games will it (Casement) host? Four? Great. We’ll go to the toilet four times. I’d rather it be spent on academies. It’s not always black and white. Some people would prefer to spend it on stadiums.

“People get peed off because a lot of stuff comes down to common sense, and not a lot of people have that.”

Duff’s reference to going to the toilet was in relation to an earlier point about the bare necessities not being catered for when it comes to both grassroots football and the League of Ireland.

He cited having to use facilities owned by Leinster Senior League side Tolka Rovers during Shels’ pre-season and admitted that he had yet to read Canham’s blueprint for the future and had not offered, or been asked, for input during the process over the past 18 months.

“I wouldn’t be knocking on the door of the FAI and Marc because I’m no expert on anything, but I do speak from my heart and am a bit emotional. I’d like to think that I speak some common sense and truth.

“I’m not afraid to speak my mind with a bit of passion because I’m not afraid of upsetting anyone in there. Sometimes the most dangerous person in the room is the man with nothing to lose. I don’t need to keep people in there happy. I’m not looking at the end game or long game. I just say it as it is now. If I don’t accept it, I’ll tell you.

“But I might speak a lot of s**t. I’ve no interest in it anyway. There’s a lot of voices out there that don’t need my stuff thrown in. It probably doesn’t help, but it is what it is.”

Now beginning his third full season in charge of Shelbourne in the Premier Division, and having previously coached Shamrock Rovers’ U15s as well as the U17s at Tolka Park, Duff has been on the frontline of League of Ireland football long enough to realise what needs to change.

“It’s all very well having a plan. I’ve a plan every week which I try to execute and do it with lovely presentations I take great pride in,” he said.

“It’s about doing it then. How long has this plan been prepared? Plans for me are about execution straight away. Time waits for no man. Plans, we can all talk but it’s about doing that.”

For Duff it is a simple equation, a point he felt he needed to reinforce after taking a recent training session with the club’s U17 side recently, while also assessing where the underage National League structures are on the whole with regards developing players and preparing them for professional football.

“First and foremost it comes down to contact hours,” he said. “Contact hours are affected by, ‘can we pay for a pitch for an extra two or three nights a week? Ok, we can, is there a pitch available for two or three nights a week? No, there’s not.

“Contact hours, facilities, you tie it in with all the countries around the world. [Shamrock] Rovers maybe do it semi well, they tie in with schools. You come back and train. Feeling the ball, feeling the ball, feeling the ball.

“Evan Ferguson you might say has gone away now. No, Evan’s just a freak. Yeah, Kevin’s, Bohs, yeah, they gave him a platform but he came off the street and they come along once in a blue moon.

“Academy players, I’ll call them, are going away at 16 to Europe, 18 to England. It’s too late. They haven’t played enough football. Coaching can be better, facilities can be better. So it’s too late to polish up something with a player at 16 and 18.

“Academies, for as much as they’re doing a great job, I’m leaving training today and all the guys have left school. Tuesday, they start at one, two o’clock. [Shamrock] Rovers, everyone says ‘brilliant, what an academy’ Pat’s ‘what an academy’, look at this. Have we really done anything? I don’t think so. We haven’t.

“I think near on every player who goes away now is all ‘I’ve played’ – I took the 17s a couple of weeks ago and they might even do two nights a week and one night with gym, I spoke to them before, I’ve been with 15s at Rovers, 17s here, ‘I train three days a week with Shels and that’s enough and I’m a footballer’. No, you’re not.

“You’re light years behind. Back in the day it was street football, We all know there’s distractions now, we’re going over old things. That’s why near-on every footballer that goes comes back. If there are academy players going away, the onus is on academies to send away better players as the player going at 16 or 18 is too late to be polished up. Can we make better players at 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, absolutely. There’s a plan and it doesn’t take 55 pages.”

Duff still had time to admit he shouldn’t have labelled the FAI’s search for a new men’s senior manager as embarrassing, as he did last Friday, but again stated his surprise at how it has dragged on.

“I get that their line of work is about process, do this and do that. I don’t see how it should take four months to appoint someone. I really don’t. I find it crazy.”

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