JOHNNY DUNLEAVY believes the League of Ireland has reached a stage where it can properly develop players for moves to England.
Dunleavy, in spite of several big injuries, has carved out a solid career in the LOI since being released from Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2011.
The Ballybofey man spent six years at Cork City, three of them as captain, and is now at Sligo Rovers. Dunleavy was a young teenager when he headed for Wolves, but now he insists the League has improved drastically since.
“We need to keep players in Ireland until they’re 21 or 22…when they’re men and when they’re ready to go,” Dunleavy said.
“When you go at 16, you’re still a boy, learning about yourself. You’re not ready.
“Look at Neil Farrugia, who has decided to stay in Ireland to finish his degree and play with Shamrock Rovers. We should encourage players to have that solid foundation, get their learning done and then move on. If you’re good enough you’ll find your level.”
Dunleavy spent some time on loan at Barnet during a two-year professional contact at Wolves, but the 28-year-old has come to appreciate the strength of the game in Ireland.
He said: “The League of Ireland is so under-rated. People think that there is a magic plane across to England and when you go across the water you’ve made it.
“Look at Dundalk, who played in the group stage of the Europa League. There is no way you can tell me that half-a-dozen of them aren’t capable of playing international football. A couple of them already have done. The quality is definitely there.”
Change is afoot on and off the field in Ireland. As the ever-embattled FAI deals with its latest crisis in Abbotstown, there are plans for a sea-change in the structure of the League of Ireland. Kerry millionaire Kieran Lucid and former Irish international Niall Quinn have proposals with Lucid having a vision for an all-Ireland League.
Dunleavy said: “The PFAI have spoken to us and it all sounds very exciting. It’s exciting times for the League and it’s something that we should all jump on now and do what we can to make the League as good as it can be.
“It’s a catch-22 situation. You have to be able to attract players from abroad. You want players looking to come and play in the League of Ireland. Teams from here play in Europe so it should be attractive, but you have clubs then who can’t afford to pay wages for the full 52 weeks, which means it’s not stable for guys to bring a family over.
“With the changes that are afoot and the proposals that are there, there are opportunities going forward and we all need to get behind it.”
Dunleavy and Sligo head for non-League Glebe North this evening for an FAI Senior Cup first round tie.
The defender was recruited by new Bit O’Red boss Liam Buckley last winter and home comforts have played a big role in his enjoyment.
He said: “To have the option of popping up the road home in an hour was a massive thing – simple stuff like being able to see your granny twice a week. It’s nice to have that.”
“I’m enjoying Sligo, the people and the club. It’s a very professional set-up. People in Sligo do massive work. It’s hard work fundraising for a club that is far away from others. The people are fantastic.
“On the pitch, we’ve had some massive results and some not-so-good results. Liam is starting to put a stamp on the team and putting the qualities he wants in the squad.
“More important for us between now and the end of the season are the performances. We have to start to get Liam’s style of play nailed down and we have the Cup now as well, which will be great to focus on.
“I loved it at Cork. I was lucky to win medals and play with some great players. It was a home away from home. I was so comfortable there, but the time came for a change. The right thing was to move and when I spoke to Liam he was so excited about his plans for Sligo.”
Aside from his own playing career, Dunleavy is also focussing on life after football. Having already completed his UEFA ‘B’ licence, Dunleavy is assisting Killybegs’ Brian Dorrian, the manager of Sligo’s Under-19s, and is eyeing up a move into coaching in the future.
He said: “It’s something you don’t see too often here. Players in England tend to get their badges done early so it’s an easier transition when they do move on. We all have to think about it. We’re not going to play football for the rest of our lives – especially someone like me with my injury history. I love playing, but I’m enjoying the learning about coaching and seeing the game from a different perspective.
“Something came up at the start of the year when Brian Dorrian, who is the manager, approached me and asked if I’d like to get involved. I’ve done my UEFA ‘B’ licence and the UEFA ‘A’ will be next.
“I’m loving it. They’re a good group of lads and there are a lot of good players in there. It’s a lot different from being on the pitch playing.”Tags: