Cork City need a Centre of Excellence to maximise Leeside soccer talent

Shamrock Rovers built a state-of-the-art complex in Roadstone after reaching the Europa League group stages in 2011
Cork City need a Centre of Excellence to maximise Leeside soccer talent

Shamrock Rovers training at Roadstone Group Sports Club in Dublin. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

BILLY BEANE, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, had an idea.

He used data analytics to build a competitive baseball team even though it had one of the lowest salaries in the league. They nearly won the American League pennant in 2006 — when they were coming 24th of 30 in player salaries — but they were beaten 4-0 in the championship game.

His methodology was adopted by John W Henry and his organisation, Fenway Sports Group (FSG).

They used this to mastermind the Red Sox’s 2004 World Series success, which ended an 86-year championship drought in New England.

This paved the way for FSG to lead Liverpool to their first top-flight English title in 30 years, in 2020, and their sixth Champions League title, in 2019. A key part of their data-driven strategy is looking for market inefficiencies.

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane in Columbia Pictures' Moneyball (2011)
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane in Columbia Pictures' Moneyball (2011)

This could mean a number of different things, from the way a pitcher throws a ball to the xG of a forward in football.

A major gap in the Irish market is the lack of a Centre of Excellence in the southern provinces. One exists in Dublin, thanks to Shamrock Rovers, and the Hoops have earned massive dividends.

The Dubliners built a state-of-the-art complex in Roadstone, after reaching the group stages of the Europa League in 2011.

The first player to graduate from their underage school was goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu. He played for their academy before joining up with the senior team in Tallaght. In 2018, Manchester City signed him.

Bazunu is now with Premier League side Southampton and he is tipped to be one of this season’s standout players.

He was followed by striker Sinclair Armstrong, who moved to Queen’s Park Rangers in 2020. Kevin Zefi was next to go and he joined Italian giants Inter Milan.

The success of their academy has caught the eye of foreign investors and this has led to further capital for Rovers.

In 2016, businessman Ray Wilson took control of 25% of the club and, three years later, Dermot Desmond acquired 25% for €2m. When their newest investor went to the club in 2019, he was said to be interested in the academy structures at Roadstone.

The Hoops also used this investment to build the team that has won the last two League of Ireland titles and the 2019 FAI Cup.

They are also guaranteed four European ties this summer, including a play-off spot in the Europa Conference League.

TOP TALENT

Their squad has a collection of top talent acquired from rival clubs in the region, talent like Andy Lyons, who signed from Bohemians, and Sean Hoare, who moved down from Dundalk.

The successes of their first team have allowed for further investment to trickle down to the academy at Roadstone.

A similar structure in the south could allow Cork City to become a regional power in Munster. The fields have never been more fertile, judging by the make-up of various Irish national teams.

The Irish senior team has five players from Cork in the squad, and another is out injured.

These players include goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher, defender John Egan, midfielders Alan Browne and Conor Hourihane, and forward Chiedozie Ogbene.

Norwich City’s Adam Idah celebrates at Carrow Road.
Norwich City’s Adam Idah celebrates at Carrow Road.

Adam Idah should be with the squad, but he is recovering from a knee injury. Ireland’s U21 squad includes Tyreik Wright, Jake O’Brien, and David Harrington. The U17s have Cathal Heffernan, who just joined AC Milan on a permanent deal from Cork City.

Cork’s emergence is happening at every age group, from the Kennedy Cup teams to Rockmount’s victory in the FAI Intermediate Cup.

Rebel county is a hotbed for talent and the right investment could allow Cork City to monopolise youth development in Munster. The Rebel Army is in the right place to become the Shamrock Rovers of the south of Ireland.

Not only do they have a large catchment area inside their own city and county, but the club has a huge support base.

This season, while in the First Division, City regularly attract crowds in excess of 3,500 people. Their case is strengthened by the fact that the other Munster clubs are going through a transition.

City’s biggest rival in the south is Waterford FC and they are in limbo with their owner. The club are valued at €1.3m, but, according to The Irish Examiner, they owe €1.2m to debtors and have no fixed assets.

An accurate figure will be released in August when the latest financial report will be filed. This will show how much the club owes in liabilities to debtors. It is said that the club owner, Richard Forrest, owes money to his predecessor, Lee Power.

Waterford are reportedly for sale, and the figures behind the club could complicate what happens next.

Cobh Ramblers are in transition under new manager Shane Keegan.

Treaty United, who were founded in 2020, are still finding their way in the League of Ireland First Division.

That leaves a gap for City to become the dominant power in the south of Ireland.

Billy Beane’s philosophy was always about finding subsets of data that no one else was looking at. This included areas like scouting players from college instead of high school.

The south of Ireland is a blank canvas and a Centre of Excellence could take advantage of this in Munster.

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