Reports today suggest the FAI are exploring the idea of a League of Ireland third division.
The reported or possibly leaked news isn’t too detailed and has Irish football fans brimming with questions.
How would it work? What format would it take? Who would be involved? How would it be funded? and so and so on.
There are suggestions the FAI are considering a third division that would comprise of a number of reserve/under 23 League of Ireland sides and top end Intermediate outfits.
Again exactly what the FAI plan to propose should they decide to run with the idea remains to be seen-and while most are skeptical it could be they come up with a revolutionary idea that greatly benefits Irish football on a whole.
However, considering a reserve league has been tried with little success and the reason put forward for introducing a third division is the worry young players currently populating the current underage format are not progressing enough to make the jump to League of Ireland football, the answer may actually lie in Intermediate football.
Introducing young talent into first team and top flight football isn’t a problem the FAI and League of Ireland can claim for themselves.
It’s an issue across the global game. For instant the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have pumped enough money to sustain the League of Ireland for years to come into their youth set ups and rather than produce a crop of young talent capable of challenging for a place in their first teams. Instead they have used the platform to generate income by selling players once they outgrow youth and reserve set ups.
The arguments often put forward for why the best young players across Britain, Europe and even the world can’t secure a regular first team place often vary, but one suggestions is said players don’t get to experience football where it matters most.
Some suggest underage football is too nice and with a focus of developing players rather than results a competitive edge is taken of young talent.
Some point to the development of the likes of Deli Ali, Nick Pope and Jamie Vardy to hammer home that point. All three were selected in the World Cup squad for England this term and all three have lower league and even non league experience.
It’s pointed out that from a young age all three of these players were exposed to competitive football where winning and losing was nigh on a matter of life and death. There was genuine pressure placed on their shoulders. Fans wouldn’t accept the team had a ‘learning experience’ if it meant defeat. They played with and against players at the other end of the age spectrum who cared little about development and more about win bonuses. Those players also employed the tricks of the trade learnt over years of playing with a ‘result is the bottom line’ mindset.
Now if lack of exposure to that kind of environment is what is hampering players then maybe amateur football is the answer for the likes of players caught between the LOI under 19’s and first team football.
No one is suggesting the amateur game in Ireland is comparable to the lower leagues across the water, nor would they suggest that a stint in the MSL, USL or LSL top flight would be the key to securing international honours.
However, if there is a progression problem playing top end Intermediate football and in some cases even Junior ‘ball could help.
Most argue the top end of the LSL Senior Sunday and the Premier Division in Cork is full of talent that could grace the League of Ireland. Indeed, it is full of talent that has played at the top end in Ireland and talent that will one day grace Ireland’s pro league.
There have been suggestions by current LOI Ireland managers that the the teams challenging for honours at Intermediate level would hold their own in Division 1.
Then if you take the likes of Shane Supple, Keith Fahey, Brandon Melie, Izzy Akinade, Kevin Smith, Jake Hyland, Daniel Kelly and even Ritchie Towell, they all played amateur football and whilst they were obvious talents they were not head and shoulders above the players they competed against.
Expanding on that point, if Intermediate football and in one case Junior football was enough to test those players and more like them who went on to be a League of Ireland success then why wouldn’t it be a suitable learning ground for the young players the FAI feel are not coming out of the current U-15, U-17 and U-19 LOI set up first team ready.
It might be more beneficial to have these players playing top end amateur football than prolonging their stint in underage set ups.
Intermediate football might be the perfect bridge between youth and pro ball. Players would be playing week in week out against grown men with talent and experience and with a real desire to win. Indeed, some of their opponents may be talented enough to play League of Ireland but due to work or family commitments prefer to play competitive ball without the travel or commitment needed at LOI level.
Even if the more amateur ignorant argue its a step down from lets say playing LOI under 19s the life skills amateur football can teach may still prove valuable. First of all their would be dealing with fighting for your place and working under a manager whose job is not to develop the player, but to get results from his club. While the crowds would not be comparable to the League of Ireland gates the fans would be demanding, you would have to face some old school hard men, the pressures of title races or relegation battles would prompt massive emotional growth spurts and opportunities to become a life long hero at the club could prove confidence boosting.
There is also the old ‘forced to grow up’ argument that comes with not having everything done for you, not to mention a connection to football, a league and a club for those that don’t make it.
This isn’t American football, at adult level it’s not just for the elite players. The FAI also have a responsibility to the amateur game and this would help in terms of keeping players involved.
How it would work is something for people with more knowledge and brain power than us here at JSP Towers, but it may be an easier and indeed safer option than bringing in a third tier.
Clubs across the country already have link ups with League of Ireland sides at underage levels and work alongside them with regard to the LOI underage teams.
Could those links be extended to senior ‘ball? Could each club sprinkle some of the young talent around the Intermediate teams? The amateur sides could tap into facilities, coaching and even learn from the marketing end of the LOI clubs.
Like the idea of a third LOI division it’s at the vague stage, but it’s something if explored and worked out properly we believe could work.