Damien Duff: 'Academies is where the future of Irish football is for me'

Shelbourne boss Damien Duff

Shelbourne boss Damien Duff Credit: David Ribeiro (ETPhotos)

Andrew Dempsey reports from Tolka Park

Shelbourne boss Damien Duff has questioned the Irish Government’s decision to allocate 50 million euro towards the construction of Casement Park for Euro 2028.

And he also claimed that he will not be reading the FAI’s Football Pathways Plan which was launched this week.

The former Ireland international was speaking ahead of Shelbourne's sold-out Ringsend Derby with Shamrock Rovers on Friday night - with a record 4,700 attendance expected to descend on the Richmond Road venue.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar revealed on Tuesday that his Government would invest 50m towards the rebuild of Casement - primarily a GAA venue - for Euro 2028.

But Duff, who has long championed the League of Ireland since his appointment as Reds boss, reckons that the future of Irish football is in its academy structure - which he said should take precedence over funding for Casement Park. 

Meanwhile, it has also emerged in recent days that Shels are set to reclaim the keys to their Tolka Park home after they thrashed out a deal with Dublin City Council. 

It’s great about Tolka,” Duff said. “It probably means most to me now bizarrely because I have history here with Brian Kerr at underage level. “But it’s still about academies.

“Will Casement Park bring through footballers? Maybe in a roundabout way. Academies for me is where the future of Irish football is.

“50m…how many games will it host? Four? Great.

“We’ll go to the toilet four times. I’d rather spend it on academies. It’s not always black and white. Some people would prefer to spend it on stadiums.

“People get peed off because a lot of stuff comes down to common sense and…not a lot of people have that.”

The FAI’s Football Pathways Plan was launched on Tuesday - with FAI chief Marc Canham insisting that the association could not afford to ‘stand still’ upon its release. 

While Duff admitted he had little to no interest in reading the 55-page document, he stressed that more contact hours are needed for players at a younger age - with facilities to boot - which was noted in the FAI's plan.

“First and foremost it comes down to contact hours,” he said. 

“Contact hours are affected by, can we pay for a pitch for an extra two/three nights a week? Ok, we can.

"But is there a pitch available for two or three nights a week? No there's not. 

“I was knocking on the doors of some amateur clubs in pre-season looking to play a pre-season friendly there. Tolka Rovers have a great set-up. 

“I think they own the ground and it's beautiful. I was asking them if we could play there and I am a Premier Division manager. Something has gone severely wrong along the line. 

“Contact hours and facilities, you tie it in with all the countries around the world. 

“Rovers maybe do it semi well as they tie in with schools. You come back and train. 

“There are academy players going away at 16 whereas back in the day, we were all street footballers going away. 

“We didn’t go away to England because we were coached at an academy. Evan Ferguson you might say has gone away now…

“No, Evan is just a freak. St Kevin’s and Bohs gave him a platform but he came off the street and they come along once in a blue moon. 

“Academy players are going away at 16 to Europe and 18 to England. But it’s too late. They haven’t played enough football...

“I think nearly every player who goes away now is all…’I’ve played’ – I took the 17s a couple of weeks ago and they might even do two nights a week and one night with the gym. 

“I spoke to them and (they think) ‘I train three days a week with Shels and that’s enough and I’m a footballer’ – No you’re not. You’re light years behind. 

“Back in the day it was street football. We all know there’s distractions now, we’re going over old things. That’s why near-on every footballer that goes comes back. 

“If there are academy players going away, the onus is on academies to send away better players as the player going at 16 or 18 is too late to be polished up. 

“Can we make better players at 8/9/10/11/12/13/14/15/16? Absolutely. There's a plan and it doesn't take 55 pages.”