The Irish League exodus continues as ‘there are more contracts than players’ but something needs to change

EVERY year from 2010 – to 2021 – the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland has organized training camps for players out of contract.

The first training session in January 2010 saw 14 players win 17 League of Ireland championship medals between them.

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley will back third for 2023


Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley will back third for 2023


From Jason Gavin, Liam Burns and Dave Rogers in the backline to Neale Fenn at the front, those are the guys from LOI.

Richie Ryan – who won the PFAI Player of the Year at the end of that season – was absent from the first training session but was contacted to inquire about participating over the weekend.

The fact that there were so many top-quality players at the start of the pre-season highlighted the economic realities of the time.

Thankfully, things have improved over the course of the decade, and this year camp was halted ahead of the first scheduled training game against IT Carlow on January 3.

That’s partly out of caution when omicron is in full swing, but also because so many players who expressed a desire to participate have agreed to new contracts.

But while 2010 was a buyer’s market, now scarcity is the problem with lots of holes in a lot of teams.

As one person involved told me this week: “There are more contracts than players.”

The winter has seen a relatively large exodus from the league as a whole.

From Jake Hyland and Keith Buckley leaving football, to the departure of foreign players like Kosovar Sadiki, to the sale of Killian Phillips, all had to be replaced.

Dundalk head coach Stephen O’Donnell has led the way in finding players from the UK so far with Wales Under-21 trio Joe Adams, Nathan Shepperd and Dan Williams joining in and more to track.

Athlone Town boss Martin Russell told SunSport this week he has to “think outside” to improve his squad.

The top clubs are doing the same thing, because names like Ross Tierney, Vitezslav Jaros and Dan Cleary are not easy to replace.

The UK market is one of the options, as the success of Jaros and Alfie Lewis at St Pat’s has been highlighted.

But the main solution will continue to be youth development, although everyone knows the flaws of moving from Under-19 football to the Irish League.

Darwinism in football means that the majority will never prevail.

But, as Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley emphasized last year when Hoops’ second-place team was knocked out of the First Division, something needs to be done.

And that is the thinking behind the Shamrock Rovers II – a stepping stone – despite opposition from other clubs.

The FAI is currently considering a third tier for 2023 that includes reserve sides and Bradley has backed it.

But the migration of players this winter suggests something needs to happen, and soon.

Joe Cole says Chelsea handled the Lukaku interview very well The Irish League exodus continues as ‘there are more contracts than players’ but something needs to change

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