John Fallon: England's watershed won't solve Ireland's broken system (2022)

HOW uncanny it is that the acronym attached to the England Women's Euro success corresponds to our country.

Much has been made of the English FA's Return on Investment (ROI) being borne out by Sunday's silverware and it would be foolhardy to deny there's a correlation.

On the occasion of their last final in 2009, also a Euro decider against Germany, England's only full-timers were the five players poached by American clubs.

The majority – including current squad member Jill Scott – had just been salaried by the governing body on a £16,000-per-annum four-year contracts in an initiative championed by Uefa. The deal afforded them 24 hours per week to top up their wages in a second job.

It would take until 2018 for full-time professionalism to become a prerequisite for entry.

The superpowers of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City were soon joined by their rivals United and Spurs, via promotion, as the top-flight began to resemble its male equivalent for glamour. Not only did the product attract global stars but retained the best English talent.

All bar one of England's 17 participants in Sunday's final played in last season's WSL. Ditto for the Germans and their Bundesliga.

Home comforts work and the biggest dilemma facing the English FA is when – not if – to cede control to an independent body, replicating the men's Premier League model.

Reports that they rejected a £150m offer from a private equity firm to take over from this upcoming season reflect the growth of a package already proven magnetic to sponsors and broadcasters before the delayed Euro hosting. Ending the 56-year tournament hoodoo at the weekend promises to snowball the entire operation.

In the same way as comparing men to women's football is flawed, so too is Ireland holding a mirror up to its gargantuan neighbour.

Proximity, history and downright curiosity, however, render it an unavoidable exercise, especially if there's a sliver of a piggybacking opportunity.

All the League of Ireland gained from the Premier League bonanza in the early 1990s was compensation to install floodlights. Friday nights, rather than the traditional Sunday afternoon time slot now the preserve of Andy Gray's analysis, became the new staple.

For the female version, there's scant sight of an upside in attempting to exist in the shadow of a giant.

There is, of course, a dividend from the tournament's media exposure of inspiring young girls to take up the game but the elite stage they aspire to be part of here, either watching or playing, threatens to be diluted in quality as a consequence. The fear for the tournament being detrimental is more real.

Migration of Irish gems to the UK market has escalated amid the fallout of Brexit, a pattern heading only one direction as the riches from increased coverage cascade through the club circuit. Sharing the Common Travel Area offers a cheap and accessible well of talent to counteract the blockages they hit in recruiting from the rest of Europe.

Saoirse Noonan spoke in these pages last week of her team Durham's progression to a full-time model.

They reside in the second tier of the Championship and she's one of seven players to have left WNL champions Shelbourne for abroad since last year. Peamount are used to suffering losses too, Noonan's team-mate at Durham Naoisha McAloon the most recent of their exodus.

While they won't begrudge players for choosing semi-professional status, being left empty-handed does sting.

Two blatant and fixable deficiencies in the system explain why raids are now commonplace.

First of all, the training and compensation sums payable to feeder clubs under Fifa's statutes are discriminatory.

Had they applied in the case of Jessica Ziu's recent move to West Ham United as they do for males, Shelbourne would be due to €415,000 for developing the nippy winger from pre-teen fledgling to the latest Irish international exported to the WSL.

CAS seemed to have corrected the imbalance by ruling Barcelona must pay €250,000 to a Serbian club Spartak Subotica in 2017 but the test case wasn't a game-changer to Fifa, whose only reaction was to amend their rules reinforcing the double standard.

The second impediment is the FAI's failure to upgrade the WNL status from amateur to professional with Uefa. FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill touched on the topic at their recent AGM, yet only to acknowledge its sensitivity and promised in the context of a longer-term "vision".

Clubs like Shelbourne cannot sit back, wait and tolerate the annual pilferage of their players midseason. Their ambition of progressing to the last-32 of the Champions League from their upcoming group in Slovenia – a first for an Irish club since 2014 – has been dimmed by the latest exits of Noonan, Ziu and Chloe Mustaki. Not a cent was paid to Shelbourne.

"Professional status would at least allow us to sign players on semi-professional contracts," explained Liam Ward, a Shelbourne director and ardent campaigner for Irish clubs losing talent for nothing.

"Then UK clubs would be obliged to pay transfer fees and go some way to stopping teams getting ripped apart halfway through the season, just as the European games loom.

"I really don't know how the FAI expect us to meet their strategic target of a top-30 placing in Europe while this practice continues.

"Even to get 10% of the training compensation deal in place for males would be welcome because my worry is that WNL clubs will run out of resources at this rate."

Embracing any spillover from the Auld Enemy's delirium is a must, yet a sustainable system in Ireland starts with implementing home comforts for the cast.

Morling lays the groundwork for new guru Canham

This week signals the start of Marc Canham’s employment as the FAI’s Director of Football and he’s already been ably assisted by John Morling.

Canham pipped Morling to the top job — one that effectively succeeded High Performance Director Ruud Dokter’s seven-year stint — but the successful candidate’s unfamiliarity with the terrain drew concerns from some FAI board members.

Although the newcomer’s CV gleamed with roles at the English FA and Premier League, his suitability to the task of fusing the fragmented Irish football pyramid blighted by infighting was questioned. Liam Brady has long called for a figurehead armed with diplomatic powers to try bang heads together.

Cue the parachuting of Morling into a consultancy role. An English native like Canham, where he differs from his new boss is the benefit of spending seven years navigating the nuances of the system as underage manager and coordinator of their first emerging talent programme. He has spent the last decade leading Brighton’s Academy.

It’s understood Morling is spending at least four days per week in the country until a review in December. He’s spent the time productively, meeting over 60 members of the wide and disparate network responsible for youth development, boys and girls. Canham will be all ears to discover if anything has changed in Morling’s second coming.

Giant-killersan endangered species in FAI Cup

Have we seen the end of FAI Cup giant-killing drama after a first round wipeout for the non-league teams against national league sides?

Only a few years have passed since Leinster Senior League outfit Crumlin United showed their scalp of Finn Harps in the Blue Riband was no fluke by eliminating Wexford 12 months later.

Maynooth University Town were one of the 2021 stories on their march to the quarter-finals, where they bowed out to eventual runners-up Bohs.

They can repeat the trick by overcoming Treaty United at the end of the month but they were fortunate to get there by drawing another amateur outfit in Waterford’s Villa. Lucan, Bonagee, and Malahide also progressed in similar match-ups over the weekend.

Mismatches were the recurrent theme of the other ties. Derry City and Galway United showed no mercy against Oliver Bond and Bluebell United respectively. Overall, the aggregate scoreline of the five league versus amateur clashes ended 26-0. As Rockmount skipper Ken Hoey highlighted before the Intermediate Cup final, the timing of ties against a summer league constitutes a massive disadvantage.

Natural order didn’t prevail for holders St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers, both of whom suffered European hangovers when dumped out by First Division clubs Waterford and Wexford. Cup magic remains in a different form.


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