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There's a reason Cork City fans might not want Leicester City to win the Premier League

John O’Sullivan warns of the dangers of ‘link-up’ deals between Irish clubs and their English counterparts.

Damien Delaney during his spell with Leicester City.
Damien Delaney during his spell with Leicester City.
Image: INPHO/Allsport

THE CLUB ON top of the English Premier League; a player many want back in the Irish squad at the Euros. Both are attracting attention these days, as they did in League of Ireland circles back in 2000.

Then, a ‘link-up’ between Leicester and Cork City only lasted long enough for Damien Delaney to be transferred between the clubs. He made his Premier League debut at Old Trafford a few months later, aged nineteen.

Instrumental in the link-up was Colin Murphy, who managed Cork City for just eight weeks and one game before leaving for a football coordinator role with Leicester. He took Delaney with him, leaving City fans bitter.

A link-up identified as a way to grow the club served only to rob it of talent before a rapid collapse. The motives of Leicester and Murphy were openly questioned.

News of potential partnerships between LoI and foreign clubs are uncommon, but they crop periodically. There seem to be little substance to this week’s Irish Daily Mail story linking Shamrock Rovers and West Ham United, but it sparked much interest.

To the average football fan, such a link-up might seem sensible, even exciting. However, if you are the ‘feeder club’ in such a relationship, especially an Irish feeder club, it is hard to identify tangible benefits.

You might secure a once-off fundraising friendly game, although that’s effectively having your own supporters fund the partnership through match ticket sales.

In theory fringe players are loaned to give the ‘feeder club’ the benefit of a higher quality player, and give the high quality player the benefit of competitive matches.

Damien Delaney Delaney in the red of Cork City. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

In practice, EPL clubs will loan out players to Championship and League One clubs where they view the standard as higher, and where it’s easier to calibrate the player’s progress. Loan deals into Ireland are pretty rare. International loan deals are difficult to manage and control, while EPL clubs appear to have free reign in terms of loaning players within the UK.

West Ham are likely to explore the prospect of spreading their wings a little wider, as others have. Manchester United have had a long standing relationship with Royal Antwerp, Celtic recently partnered with an NASL side in the US and Manchester City are revolutionising the approach to global scouting and player development, now running clubs on three continents.

It can make sense to be the ‘lead club’ in such a relationship but the key advantage these days is the ability to assess a potential player, who is ineligible to work in the UK, at a competitive level before working out if he’s going to make it. It allows the club to create test environments in areas which may have looser controls around work permits than the UK.

It was one of the reasons cited for West Hams’ desire to do business with Shamrock Rovers. While it’s easier to get a work permit in Ireland than the UK, especially for a sports professional, that does not mean it is easy.

It does not mean that West ham could suddenly use Shamrock Rovers as their Premier League development squad for players requiring work permits.

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A key step in the application for a Sports Professional Work Permit is a letter of support from the National Governing body of the sport in question. So every US, African or Australian player who needs a work permit has to have a supporting letter from the FAI who will rightly challenge that application.

In 2013 I helped Limerick FC bring in two excellent young Ghanaian players and the FAI provided letters of support, but only after discussions to explain that these players were not going to hinder the ability or desire of the club to develop younger players.

If there had been a sense that Limerick were intending to fill their squad with talented young African players to the detriment of the Youth Development Policy of the club, the FAI would not have provided the letter of support and the Permits would not have been issued.

So while ‘Shammerock Rovers’ might be an idea in the head of West Ham owners David Sullivan and David Gold, it might not be what they need and it’s highly unlikely it’s the kind of relationship that would benefit the Hoops.

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