Former journalist and FAI employee Stephen Finn is currently working in the Department of Sport where much of his work is concerned with policy development, both at home and abroad.
Speaking to extratime.ie about the concept of a dual career, Finn explained that currently this is an area of high importance within the European Union.
He says: “It’s a topic of high consciousness especially with athletes operating at Olympic level. Iit’s a balancing act between education and getting to the top of your sport.”
Speaking from a League of Ireland viewpoint, the futsal supremo made reference to the groundbreaking Dundalk team of 2016. Not only were they making history but their starting XI had two master's students in the form of Robbie Benson (actuarial science) and David McMillan (architecture) and another studying on a PFAI linked degree course (Gary Rogers).
He referenced the career of legendary Swedish international centre back Johann Mjällby who worked as a distribution manager for one of Sweden’s most popular newspapers in Stockholm while continuing to play with AIK and the Swedish national team.
The rugged defender only became a full-time professional footballer upon signing for Celtic in November 1998. As a part time player with AIK he won two Swedish top flight titles (1992, 1998) and also made his international debut in March 1997.
Finn also cited the examples of Dennis Bergkamp – who had to receive permission from his secondary school to play for Ajax in the European Cup – and Danny Collinge.
Four years ago, then MK Dons Academy player Collinge was offered a two year scholarship with the club. However, at 16 and having just finished his GCSEs, he made a decision to join Vfb Stuttgart based on the educational opportunities available to him.
Under the English system, as outlined in an interview with Dave Robertson here, students’ education is part of Academy life. However, rather than a BTEC qualification, Collinge wanted the chance to study for an A-Level type qualification and this was easily accessible at the German club where he was able to attend an international school to study for an International Baccalaureate.
In an interview with BBC Sport, he explains that this would “secure a good back-up plan if football didn’t work out.”
Referencing the League of Ireland,from his current position as Shelbourne under-17 manager and formerly of underage sides at St Francis, Rangers and Belvedere, Finn believes the recent emergence of the underage leagues from under-15 to under-19 level is a very positive step.
“The emergence of the national league has meant that there now isn’t a rush to the bright lights. In the old days it was all about scouts and trials, now the under-17s are close enough to completing their Leaving Certificate.
“At the club, we’ve got Dylan Connolly who exceeded 500 points in his Leaving Certificate and is now studying at Trinity College, while our under-19 side last year included students from DCU, Trinity College and a number of other third level institutions.”
Further discussion on the educational pathway shed light on an FAI Transition Year Programme in Corduff which included under-17 players from clubs including Shelbourne, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic and Finn spoke about the potential of developing the pathway further by creating stronger links between secondary schools, third level institutions and local League of Ireland clubs.
He’s in no doubt as to who should be leading the charge:
“The clubs are the drivers, it should be part of their community approach to foster these links, if clubs are really investing in the whole person why wouldn’t the player want to stay at the club longer?
“Once players move past Under 19s they can drift into a space (out of League of Ireland football) but there are a lot of things that clubs can do to prevent this happening. There are lots of different programmes out there but it’s all about joining the dots.”
Similar to Robertson, Finn also believes that the national league has an important role to play in the development of the national team.
“To produce more Champions League players it’s better to get one club into the Champions League than try get 100 players into Champions League clubs.”
He commented about the value of underage caps, citing the examples of several underage German and Brazilian teams which experienced little success despite the presence of such luminaries as Mario Gotze, Neymar and Philippe Coutinho – these players came to prominence at senior international level but most of their underage compatriots failed to achieve a senior international cap.
“We beat ourselves up too much, the fall off [of international players from youth to senior] is there in every country.
“Of the 45 players who received international caps during Trapattoni’s last two years of managing the national side and Martin O’Neill’s first, approximately a similar number left Ireland before completing their Leaving Certificate (16) as those after completing their Leaving Certificate (14).
“Therefore why would you take the risk of leaving school and the country when the chances are pretty much the same as if you stay and complete your studies?”
A pretty compelling argument from a man who has coached, managed and advised many players over the years, as well as worked at the coalface of Irish football, both with the Irish Daily Star and the FAI in his role as Communications Executive, while also being instrumental in the development of futsal throughout Ireland.
Continuous education is a mantra he applies to his own life. “I still want to keep learning. I’d rather know things than have things,” he says, and this is evidenced by the fact that he is currently studying for a BA in Humanities (Psychology Major) at DCU.