‘O’Neill And Keane Are Buying Us Time’: Graham Barrett Voices Concern About Irish Football

From Balls.ie

Platinum One Head of Football – Ireland and former Ireland striker Graham Barrett appeared on Balls.ie Football Show to discuss his transition from footballer to intermediary, how a freak bout of illness curtailed his Arsenal career despite a massively successful career in the Gunners’ youth ranks and the success of the current Ireland senior team .

Graham Barrett remains hugely interested in all things Irish football, and wrote a fascinating Irish Times piece back in March where he stated that the outlook for the sport in Ireland was bleak, calling for a radical overhaul of both its coaching and governance.

And despite a successful six months for the national team, the 35-year-old believes Irish football is setting itself up for a major fall, with only the work of Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane and the current senior crop papering over cracks that are destined to widen down the road:

I think the senior team are doing unbelievably well. Our management team in Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill are exceptional. We have some fantastic players in terms of their heart, their character, their desire, their commitment to doing well for Ireland – and obviously their talent as well. What they’re doing at the moment is inspiring, but it’s also buying us time.

There is a lot to be done at youth level. People shouldn’t think, all of a sudden, ‘we’re okay’. There’s an awful lot of work to be done. It would be incredibly naive to think the opposite.

Barrett’s lauds Shamrock Rovers’ approach to developing youth, sparing praise, too, for Stephen Kenny’s eye for talent at Dundalk and John Caulfield’s work at Cork City.

He has witnessed first hand the unity of Irish fans, but suggests that the powers-that-be in Irish football should adopt a similar approach should we wish to continue to progress, or risk going backwards:

When I was away in the summer, watching the games in France, what hits you is how incredibly together the Irish fans were. We get called the best fans in the world, and they are. They’re so far ahead of every other country in the world in terms of sticking together, sticking by the team.

But when you come home, domestically, grass roots, and the organisations around the country that facilitate the game, nothing could be further from the truth. We’re not together. It’s incredibly divisive.

FAI technical director Ruud Dokter wants Irish football to move towards a future where the ‘pathway’ for the best young players is via League of Ireland academies. The collateral damage in the new league system, however, are schoolboy clubs like St Kevin’s Boys, who have been refused entry to the new national U17 and U15 leagues.

Barrett maintains that freezing out clubs like St. Kevin’s makes little sense when you consider the Shanowen Road club has developed a plethora of Irish internationals at grassroots level in recent decades, and he told Ruud Dokter as much when the Dutchman agreed to meet him.

He suggests that, unless various differences are set aside by those off the pitch, we’ll face significant issues on it when current senior internationals step aside in the coming years.

That’s what we need to produce – a conveyor belt [of talent]. And that can only start if every organisation in the country starts working together.

You take St. Kevin’s Boys, for example: They have been brilliant for Irish football. Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick… Damien Duff played there for a few years. Stephen Carr, Ian Harte, Liam Brady. And they’re very much out of the loop of Irish football right now. I think there would be a worry for St. Kevin’s Boys given the new rules within the Association in the under-15, under-17 league – which is a great idea, but also you can’t forget about what’s already been good. St. Kevin’s Boys have been very, very good over the last two decades. And they’re left out in the cold at the moment. That’s not right either. You’ve got to strike a balance, and you won’t unless everyone works together. That still hasn’t happened.

I met Ruud Dokter. We sat down for two hours and we had a chat. I found him very sincere, and he’s trying his best. But the people behind him need to give him the power and support to implement what he wants to implement. But not all of the associations that govern football in Ireland play nice together. That’s a real problem.

There are things that I didn’t agree with Ruud on, and I voiced that, and he voiced his opinion. We had a very honest conversation for what it was worth. I felt within that two hours that he had the best interests of Irish football [at heart], but if he’s to implement his ideas – if we’re to build on the brilliant work that Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane and the team have done in the last year – everyone is going to have to start working together. And unless that happens, we’ll find ourselves in real trouble again, in a year, or two years, or three or four years…Whenever it may be, but it will happen.