‘Investment has to come if we are going to produce players for Ireland’ – Declan Devine wants career path for U17 stars
For Bohemians boss Declan Devine, there’s pride that his club have provided four players to the Ireland U17 team which has swept aside Wales and hosts Hungary to make it into the last eight of the European Championship finals and a battle with Spain in Budapest on Saturday night.
But there is also a recognition that more investment is needed to make sure that this success, with squad mainly made up of home-based players, is not a one-off but can be sustained.
Devine had a taste of what can happen when state funds are invested as he was on the staff of the Irish FA when they were able to have an Elite Development squad, offering future Northern Ireland internationals like Conor Bradley access to high-level training and matches.
“It took a lot of investment and it came from the (Stormont) Assembly,” he says of his stint in the North.
“It exposed these players to the bigger clubs that were looking that there is talent over here that when it’s working and they are getting tested, that we can tap into.”
Players from Shamrock Rovers, St Patrick's Athletic and Waterford have delivered the goals in Hungary for the U17s but Bohs boys Danny McGrath and Nickson Okosun have played a role while Talyor Mooney and Joe Collins are also there.
“I am delighted for them though I don't think they have all played as many minutes as they would have liked, I watch a lot of our U19s and they are four talented lads,” he said.
"Danny McGrath has got lots of talent, Nickson and Taylor have been in with us and may be involved in the first team in the next few weeks. I am delighted for them and it's testimony to the group that the academy is doing that we have four players in the squad,” says Devine.
“For me, the investment has to come, it has to come if we are going to produce players for our international set-up and to take the game to another level, investment just has to come.”
Devine says he’s concerned at the gap between U19 and senior football with the potential for players to be lost, hence his preference for some form of U21/B league for what he calls “periphery” players to get games, playing alongside first team players who are out of favour or working on their fitness.
“We have all been trying to get these young players exposed to more senior players.
"I think there has to be a next level from the U19s, the gap from the U19s to the senior team is huge and there has to be another level where periphery players who are not starting on the Friday night can get involved on a Saturday afternoons and test themselves like for like.
"The involvement of a young player being involved with the senior players is a natural progression for his academy set-up to work,” says Devine.
He will watch on Saturday when the U17s play Spain but on Friday the focus is all on the derby at home to Shelbourne, Bohs boosted by the return to the squad, after injury and suspension, of Grant Horton and Dylan Connolly while James Akintunde rejoins the squad to claim a place on the bench.
Bohs have mixed fortunes in the derby games to date, with defeats to Shamrock Rovers, Shels and St Pats. “They (derbies) are a bit more blood and thunder, there's certainly a lot more at stake for our fans, but ultimately it's about three points," he says.
“Part of our identity this year is that we have competed really well, we have been good in our transition to attack, a good mix of goalscorers across the squad but there's no doubt we have left points behind as well. We've been down to 10 men in crazy circumstances on a few occasions and dropped points because of that,” he said.
"We have to make sure we go about our game plan, take the emotion out of the game, play tactically and technically the best we can.
"Shels are fantastically well set-up. They are working extremely hard for their manager, staff and club, we have no doubt – we spoke about it all week – that this is a difficult game for us, it's a Dublin derby, a game where they have already turned us over and we have to try and get them points back.
"The circumstances in the last game, Dylan Connolly's sending off, was a huge turning point. But we are better now than we were then, a bit further on in the journey.
“Kris Twardek has come back into the squad really strong, Declan McDaid has been good coming off the bench in recent weeks, we have players here that I am looking forward to performing on Friday night.”