“One in three of our members have a third level degree, one in five have no qualifications beyond the Junior Certificate.”
Stark words from the PFAI’s Stephen McGuinness, when discussing the results of the most recent survey of professional footballers in the Republic of Ireland, in conversation with extratime.ie.
As a young player in the League of Ireland there are many choices to be made regarding both a footballing career and a life after the boots have been hung up.
In the words of McGuinness himself: “You’re only one injury away from being finished as a footballer.”
So what are the options available to young footballers in the league today?
For those playing at League of Ireland clubs at under-17 or under-19 level and don’t know whether to go a third level institution or try their hand at the bright lights of soccer abroad in the hope that they’ll secure a contract that will provide them with financial security for life, this set of articles is for you.
McGuinness speaks of the value of the under-17 or under-19 league as providing a pathway for the young footballer to make a first team as well as continuing to develop their education.
Previously, if an offer to go to an English club was offered to a teenager it made sense for them to try their luck and if it didn’t work out then they could come back to Ireland and attempt to build a career out of the League of Ireland.
Now it’s different, in the words of the 2002 FAI Cup winner: 'every contract in the League of Ireland is earned.”
So what are the options available to that Under 17 or Under 19 footballer today?
Overview of Third Level Options
A broad overview of how the FAI links with educational outlets from primary school until third level complete with a link to a booklet produced by the FAI covering many of the options currently available for students intending to attend third level institutions
A sports scholarship programme is run by many third level institutions throughout the Republic of Ireland: some have direct scholarship programmes with clubs, others require an elite standard of your chosen sport and an interview determines the sportspeople who receive the awards.
One of the most well known and longest running scholarship schemes in the League of Ireland is that run by UCD and the first in this series concentrates on their programme courtesy of an interview with assistant manager Ian Ryan.
Scholarship opportunities are also available in the United States of America and we spoke to Cork City’s double winning right back Steven Beattie about his experience at North Kentucky University and how he developed his education in the classroom and on the pitch stateside.
If you’re after a more practical based approach that combines both football and education and serves somewhat of a bridging step between the Leaving Certificate and a Level 7/8 degree course, the FAI run an FAI/ETB programme which allows players to develop their skills as well as providing students with the opportunity to study for coaching and fitness badges.
One of the first graduates of the course was Sligo Rovers goalkeeper Micháel Schlingermann who spoke to us about the pathway this course provided for him to develop his footballing career as well as carving out a career in the FAI.
IT Carlow, in conjunction with the FAI, offer a degree course in Sports Management while also allowing participants to obtain their coaching badges up to UEFA ‘B’ Licence standard.
Alternately, as is the case with other footballers currently playing in the League of Ireland, it is possible to combine a full time degree course while carving out a successful career. Dundalk’s Brian Gartland- owner of BGB- obtained his degree in Business Management at UCD while playing with Bray Wanderers and Shelbourne as a teenager. He spoke to extratime.ie to discuss his experiences and how he combines building his basketball coaching business alongside playing for one of the most successful sides in the league.
Staying in school and completing a Leaving Certificate is of paramount importance in order to access any third level institution. The PFAI provide access to an online course in Sports Management for their members and, according to McGuinness, one of the stumbling blocks to some of their members enrolling on the course is that they haven’t achieved the level of formal education needed.
Leinster Schoolboys successful Assistant Manager and secondary school teacher Fintan Sheridan took the time to explain to us how important it is to finish secondary school education, while also speaking about the high standard of football at secondary schools level and the opportunities to represent your school, province and country while still at school.
James O’Callaghan is the current Peamount United and Maynooth University Women’s Team manager and he spoke to us about how to carve out a successful career in the Women’s National League while simultaneously adding to their education. The former Monaghan United player is a former Under 16 manager with Peamount and told us how important education is when discussing Women’s football in Ireland.
Cork City may be currently sponsored by University College Cork but Law lecturer at the college, Seán O’Conaill explains that there exists much more to the link than merely a name on the front of the jersey. O’Conaill was one of the men responsible for writing education into the constitution of Cork City and is actively involved in the scholarship programme which exists between the club and college.
Jack O’Keefe scored the winning goal in the Under 19 McGuill Cup Final last season. We spoke to him about his life on and off the pitch and how he came to end up as a scholarship student on the Sports Exercise and Business degree at DKIT.
Kyle Ferguson was a Performance Analyst with Northern Ireland Under 17s and Under 19s before heading to New Zealand to hone his skills further. He returned to Northern Ireland to become Course Director of Ulster University’s Football Coaching and Business Management degree course. We had a chat with him about the programme, its strong links with the IFA and the focus on achieving employment for graduates.
We talked to the former league (St Patrick’s Athletic) and FAI Cup winner (Dundalk) about the opportunities provided by the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland for its members and the importance of continuing to develop both a football and education career in parallel.
In a diverse career where football has been at the core throughout, Stephen Finn has seen many players pass from youth team players and right through the League of Ireland. He has worked as a journalist, within the FAI and is now working in the Department of Sport where he is involved in policy change. His views on education, the importance of the national league and the possibility of creating stronger community partnerships between League of Ireland clubs and educational institutions are worth reading.
Employed in a Football League Academy for almost a decade, Robertson has an deep understanding of how important it is to keep involved with education while playing soccer. His Peterborough United Academy was one of the first in England and he spoke to us about how important the strength of the national league is in the development of the national side.
Miguel Delaney has had a meteoric rise to his current London-based position as Chief Football Correspondent at The Independent. His own education began with a degree in Journalism at DIT, progressing to a Masters in Politics at UCD while he worked at The Tribune and he is an advocate of developing skills ‘in the field’ as well as in the classroom. He has encountered footballers throughout Europe and beyond so is in a good position to judge the effects of education on modern professional soccer players as well as give advice to any aspiring journalists.
Conan Byrne has been a League of Ireland legend for over a decade and he tells us how he began his senior League of Ireland career at UCD and how his degree helped him at Sporting Fingal. He has recently returned to the classroom as a teacher and shares his story of the importance of education with us.
Education and Dedication - Peamount United and Ireland striker Amber Barrett
Fresh from an outstanding season in 2017 where she scooped major individual awards, played at the World University Games and made her senior international debut, Amber Barrett is also embarking upon a Master's degree in DCU after spending three years at Maynooth University. Here she speaks to extratime.ie about juggling everything and the importance of hard work.