They come up through the under-19s and it’s basically like they have fallen off a cliff - Barry Prenderville

Fri, Aug 24 2018

As the ball rolled out and defending champions Cork City got drawn against Maynooth University Town in the FAI Cup, it was an unsuspecting draw and hardly one to make the headlines. To the most anonymous of punter, it was the double champions of Ireland – fresh from their Champions and Europa League exploits – against a non-league university side in a ground where City haven’t lost domestically in 371 days.

It is a seemingly nonexistent task which fuels the magic so accustomed to cup football. For Maynooth University manager Barry Prenderville, tomorrow night’s game is anything but a mammoth task, with the former Republic of Ireland underage international excited for the challenge at the Cross tomorrow evening, 

“We are looking forward to the opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for us. This has been a great cup run for us and the lads are just looking forward to the opportunity for us to play Cork City at Turners Cross. Who knows when us as a group will get this opportunity again. We are going to enjoy it. We are going to plan and prepare as best we can and we are going to enjoy it.”

In what has been a stellar period for Prenderville and his side, the former defender turned Soccer Development Officer at National University of Ireland Maynooth, has been thriving since taking the job over in 2008. Having guided his side through the national stage, NUIM has rose through successes from winning their first ever Collingwood Cup in 2014, to last May’s FAI Intermediate Cup success at the Aviva Stadium. Taking everything into account, the successes where cast off for Prenderville on a true reflection of a landmark few months for the club.

“Look, we still had an off season. We got promoted from the Leinster Senior League 1A to the Senior 1. So, after the cup final we still had another five or six games, so that took us right to the end of May. We did have five or six weeks off, we gave them a full off season and started back the second or third week of July. We had pre-season and a couple of friendlies and then we had a few pre-season games because we were in the Tom Hand Cup. We’ve played three competitive games. It’s not ideal that we are playing a professional side at this time in our season, but at least we have played competitive games.”

Underpinning this rise to success has been the crucial link ups between Maynooth and St. Patrick’s Athletic. Announced in 2010, the deal between club and college promised a symbiotic relationship of college scholarships and training opportunities to the former Pats stars. Beginning the deal was Jake Carroll of the Pat’s under 20’s who undertook an Arts degree while playing for the college. Eight years later the deal has become a conveyer belt of talent. From Conor O’Malley who broke into the senior Pats side on return who now plays for Peterborough (who also featured for Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland squads for friendlies against the USA and France) as well as Dundalk duo Jamie McGrath and Sean Hoare, Fuad Sule of Barnet and Paul Rooney of Colchester United. The talent produced has gone on to win top honours domestically including the FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup, with others such as O’Malley and McGrath also featuring heavily through NUIM’s 2014 Collingwood Cup win. It is a partnership and deal which has breathed new life into the league, and one keen to be highlighted,

“I’ve been doing this job as Soccer Development Officer in Maynooth for the last ten years and when I came into the job Maynooth were a little bit of a joke. I had a look at how we were doing things for a year, but I was also looking that if we set up a soccer scholarship program how where we going to get the best players, or the best quality of players into the university so that we could be more competitive. It just made sense for me to approach St. Pats. Pete Mahon was the manager at the time, and he had his time at UCD so he was very open to it. So, after some talks we put a few documents around it and put a frame around it and we came up with an agreement. It has worked really, really well.”

Furthering the talk of structures and developments, talk quickly fell to the possibility of a new third tier for the League of Ireland. The attempts to bridge the gap between under age football and the senior team set up has long been talked about.

“The thing about league of Ireland is that if we are to have a reserve league or an under 21 league we don’t have enough professionals to let them hang around until they are 21/22. It’s a bit of a catch 22. It might give a couple of clubs the opportunity to look at LOI and say maybe we can and they can play against LOI opposition more often. There might be a few clubs who might be happy to drop down from LOI and play at a lower level that are struggling. Look there are pluses and there are minuses, but it’s is something that needs to happen with that under 19 league, players are being discarded too quickly. They come up through the under 19s and it’s basically like they have fallen off a cliff. These are good players and the players that we have in our squad. They might have played a year or two League of Ireland senior and it didn’t go so well or they would play under 19s and they were just out. These are all fine players, but it will take a little bit longer to get there”