MNS has hosted some interesting debates over the years about the League of Ireland, its direction and how best to maximise its potential. However, on Monday 27th of August we had the bizarre sight of former Cork City legend Dave Barry making a statement criticising former Republic of Ireland manager Eoin Hand, about comments he had made previously on the show.
The genesis of this spat came from comments Dave Barry made on MNS about how he believed UCD do not face the same pressures as other teams in the leagues. Eoin Hand took offence to this and criticised Dave Barry on MNS and suggested he was questioning whether UCD should be in the league.
The most recent Dave Barry statement made clear that this is not what he was saying.
“On July 9, I was on this show and I saw two managers being interviewed – UCD’s Martin Russell and Dundalk’s Sean McCaffrey. I spoke about the pressures that are on these clubs and the manager’s of these clubs.
“Since then Eoin Hand has come on this show and quoted me as saying that I had questioned whether UCD should continue in the league. I heard him make those comments and I thought: ‘Where is he getting that from?”
“I have a lot of respect for Eoin Hand and he’s a big name in the game but I don’t appreciate people putting words in my mouth because I never even suggested that UCD don’t belong in the League of Ireland.
“I merely spoke of the pressures that are on the manager. I speak for myself and I don’t appreciate people putting words in my mouth so I hope I’ll be hearing from Eoin.”
Now, I am on neither Team Dave nor Team Eoin, but I think the debate it has generated about UCD is interesting. Should a university football team be playing in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland against professional and semi-professional teams?
The poor attendances at the Belfield Bowl have been held up as a reason that UCD should not be in the league. There is no denying that UCD’s average home gate is poor but perhaps this is not the criteria we should be judging the club by. In UCD the players get a unique opportunity to gain an education, both academically and in football terms.
This is against the backdrop of the exodus from this country of young talent to England and Scotland every year for trials and on the foot of contract offers, to follow their dreams of being a professional footballer. This is a dream that often ends in failure with it being notoriously difficult for young Irish boys to break into first-team football with British football teams. Often they return to Ireland demoralised and given that they left the Irish education system at 16, they are without formal qualifications to pursue another career.
Irish clubs have recognised the need to cater for the educational requirements of their players as UCD do and have followed their lead in offering scholarships. In October 2011, Sligo Rovers and IT Sligo announced the first two recipients of their joint scholarship scheme were Liam Martin and Colm McLaughlin. Both players represented Ireland at underage level and the scholarship allows them combine their studies for Higher Certificates in Business at IT Sligo while training with the Sligo Rovers first team squad.
This season Finn Harps have also announced a link up with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, offering a scholarship programme to promising athletes. There are a number of other clubs with links with third-level institutions both formally and informally or in the process of developing a programme which leads to the conclusion that there is an appreciation of the model that UCD offer for players.
What also has to be noted is that football education that is offered to players at the college. They play a progressive brand of football and allow the players to express themselves. You need only look at the list of former UCD players to see how the club have developed players that have entertained and prospered in our league, and outside it, as professionals.
Names such as Kevin Moran, Tony McDonnell, Jason Sherlock, Ronan Finn, Evan McMillan, Conor Sammon, Ciaran Kilduff and Conan Byrne are all products of the UCD production line.
The most recent high-profile example of a player that has benefited from his experience with UCD is Paul Corry. Just before the transfer window closed at the end of August he completed a move to English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, for an undisclosed fee. The Dubliner had turned down contracts with both Burnley and Nottingham Forrest in his youth so he could concentrate on his education. So, now at 21 and with a Commerce Degree secured and after over 100 appearances for UCD, Corry felt this move was right for his career.
The story of Paul Corry is a good news story for the league. The unique model that UCD offer which combines an opportunity to study while playing football at the highest level in this country meant we kept a player who has recently broken into the Irish U21 team in our domestic league until he was 21. Apart from the benefits for the players, the league in general reaps the rewards of young players schooled in a footballing philosophy at Belfield which has a history of producing good footballers that end up in clubs throughout the domestic game.
A cursory glance through any squad list in the Airtricity League would reveal players that passed through the UCD system and I for one hope it’s a club and a model that continues to play a key part in the domestic game.
Paul Walsh is a part-time freelance journalist based in Dublin and freelancing for a number of publications. Follow him on twitter @walshpots