Stephen Kenny must have woken up this time last week with a footballing hangover. I know I did. Before my eyes even opened the thought “Luxembourg, bloody hell” worked it’s way through my mind.

It’s important that we take a step back and look at the facts. In the last THIRTEEN qualifying campaigns the Republic of Ireland have qualified for THREE major competitions. As much as we would like to think we have set the world alight at international level, we haven’t.

2012 Euro’s

Let’s look back to our last two tournaments. In 2012 we were way out of our depth. A qualifying campaign where we celebrated a 0-0 draw against Russia like we won the world cup. The style of football we had was disgraceful. It wasn’t enjoyable to watch. In fact it was torture! With luck on our side in the play-off draw we beat Estonia and qualified to travel to Poland/Ukraine 2012.

Three games, three defeats. We were not a side anymore that could cause major upsets or even worry the main contenders. The signs were on the wall.

2016 France

In 2016 we finished a place lower in third in qualifying. Normally we would be out but a third place finish this year gained you a play-off place. In fairness we dispatched of Bosnia in a very professional manor to qualify.

After a boring qualifying campaign full of negativity we were easily pleased when the shackles were loosened. A draw against Sweden gave us hope. Belgium showed us how far we were off the pace. And our historic win against the Italian ‘B’ side lead us to believe we were a force in Europe.

We did play well against France but the cream always rises to the top. The next campaign we returned to negative talk from the manager and more negative football.

While also losing out on Jack Grealish and Declan Rice as dinosaur tactics are only entrusted to the most senior of players. How we could do with having that quality in the team now.

National Plan

Stephen Kenny is trying to implement a style of football that is correct as the national plan is to play this way. The top underage teams in the country are coaching this way. If he had the players of years gone by it would be a successful one. So how is it all our faults I hear you say!

I want to quote a great article from Miguel Delaney…

It was the moment when Wim Koevermans, the man that John Delaney had in 2009 described as the most important appointment in Irish football history, first wondered whether the job was worth the trouble.

In February 2010, the recently-installed FAI High Performance Director was at a meeting with the Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland to discuss the implementation of 51 recommendations from the 2009 underage review. Most of the items were “common-sense stuff” like small-sided and non-competitive games for children under 11. As one figure at the meeting explained about the benefit of such changes, “they’re the kind of the things the Spanish and Germans have been doing for years”.

The response to that from a senior SFAI official was alarming: “What the fuck would they know about Irish football?”
It could be argued that very quote reveals enough about Irish football, except for the merciful fact it is a single administrator. That obstinate resistance did ensure the guidelines were shelved, however, and that in itself points to a crux that has conditioned our game.

Koevermans

Four years after that meeting Koevermans frustrations eventually lead to his resignation. The FAI decided to bring in Ruud Dokter as High Performance Director eight years ago. Alot has been implemented such as 4v4, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 games at certain age groups. It was also what many coaches had been asking to be implemented years before it eventually was.

Even under enormous pressure from schoolboy clubs he still implemented the U13/15/17/19 League of Ireland teams which was in my opinion a step forward. Street football was dying so organised football needed to be more proactive.

One of his role’s was coach education. This is where the system has been let down. For the ages of 6 to 12 year old there has been very little focus on the coaching of technical skills. And then how to incorporate those skills into a game situation as a progression. The ages of 6-12 and how to produce better technically gifted players should have been the first issue that Ruud Dokter addressed.

Coerver Coaching

Coerver coaching with 37 years of experience have designed a fantastic model that goes hand in hand with what Ruud Dokter has put in place. It is ready made and proven. Ball Mastery is what every club in the country should be introducing to our kids. Encouraging our kids to be positive in 1v1 situations, creating game changers.

Coerver develops these technical skills through repetition and develops them by bringing them into game situations as the child grows older. This is the simplistic version of explaining it so below I have attached a video so that Stuart Hayden can explain it in finer detail.

Many managers are just parents thrown into the deep end and told to swim. If you are part of a club and you are coaching, managing or even a parent within these clubs then are you asking questions? The right questions? Is my child enjoying getting coached? If not, why not? Is he/she improving their technical skills on a weekly basis?

I see this alot now, parents not sending their child to training because it’s raining or it’s a little cold. Parents taking their child out of training with 10 to 15 minutes still left in training. These are normally the parents who turned up late…. again.

Ask Questions

Am I as a coach/manager getting the help from the club to improve my knowledge of the game? Does my club have a development plan in place especially for the 6-12 age group. Is placing them in a 6v6 training game for an hour good enough? Is training once a week enough?

The answer to the last two questions is no. Especially with street football on a huge decline. We as coaches, as parents and as club members are not asking enough questions about the technical development of our players at the 6-12 age group.

Football clubs around the country need to seriously look at this age group in their own club and implement a proven technical development plan. A hand full of tricks that a coach might know in your academy or underage teams is not sufficient if we want to develop quality player’s in this country.

We are failing to develop game changers. Our players are of little threat in the final third at our highest level. We need to focus on developing strikers, wingers and attacking midfielders that can beat players. That can create something out of nothing.

How often do we hear it from the football panels on our TV screens. “We as a footballing nation are not technically as good as the Europeans sides”. We have to ask the question ‘Why are we not as good?

Goverment Backing

Also the FAI and the Government need to step up to the plate. Football is the highest participated sport in our country but the funding over the last 20 years compared to other sports has been abysmal. This needs to change. It needs to be on par with the GAA in this regard when it comes to building the infrastructure needed. And Football is playing a huge catch up game here so that needs to be in the thinking too.

The main focus has to be on the FAI. Why has there not been a plan put in place to develop better technical players at all levels in the 6-12 age bracket? Stephen kenny needs to ask this of his employers as well. They are supposed to be the leaders of the Irish Footballing family in which everyone else follows. Their blind and total focus on the National team qualifying for major championships to fund the association has ended up destroying any and all progress by taking the eye of developing the players of tomorrow.

The FAI were so busy creating new coaching courses to connect up to the Uefa A and B licences (more money) that not a thought went towards a national plan to create the game changers of the future. We are all to blame. We all sat back and didn’t ask the questions that needed to be asked. The questions that needed to be answered.

Stephen Kenny

Stephen Kenny is not to blame. He is the right man for the job. He needs time. Mick McCarthy took three qualifying campaigns to get to his first major tournament in 2002. There are positives within the disappointment of his eleven game start.

A style that now progresses from our underage up to our senior team. While our young players are not ready yet, many have talents which will no doubt improve with experience and guidance from Stephen Kenny over the next couple of years.

There are many other aspects that also need to be worked on in this country. Our schoolboy/schoolgirl clubs need to be properly looked after financially for developing players at a cost only for League of Ireland clubs to reap the rewards further down the line.

Ask the question of yourself and of your club. Am I and are we doing enough to produce technically solid players? Are we doing enough to encourage players to not be afraid to lose the ball and just go at the opposition 1v1 when it’s on. We are a football family. And sometimes in a family, responsibility of action needs to be taken by all and not just the head of the table.