League of Ireland clubs need to work together for better transfer fees 

Cork City and the rest of the strongest sides in Irish soccer are seeing their best young players move on for minimal fees
League of Ireland clubs need to work together for better transfer fees 

James Akintunde of Derry City in action against Jake O'Brien of Cork City at Turner's Cross. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

LEAGUE of Ireland clubs are picking up the pieces with a number of top stars having left for teams in England in the summer transfer window.

In the last two weeks, Bohemians lost Promise Omochere to League One side Fleetwood and Sligo Rovers’ Ed McGinty signed for Oxford United on the eve of a European game against Motherwell.

Cathal Heffernan transferred permanently to AC Milan from Cork City and Daniel Mandroiu went to Lincoln City just before Shamrock Rovers started their Champions League qualification campaign.

The conversation after such an exodus isn’t about a talent drain from the League of Ireland, but the transfer fees. While the majority aren’t disclosed, Cork City received around €30,000 for Cathal Heffernan and Rovers got roughly the same for Daniel Mandroiu.

AC Milan footballer Cathal Heffernan at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
AC Milan footballer Cathal Heffernan at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ed McGinty is said to have been sold to Oxford United for a five-figure sum.

According to Transfermarkt, the record fee paid for a League of Ireland player was the £540,000 Shamrock Rovers got for Liam Scales.

Before that, Roy O’Donovan held the record for his £450,000 move to Sunderland in 2007.

Bohemians’ chief operations officer, Daniel Lambert, urged clubs to come to a collective agreement that will allow teams to command fees for players.

In a Twitter thread, he said this would be “better for players, clubs, and the league as a whole”.

Lambert also referenced the changing times in Irish football in the aftermath of Brexit. Irish players now have to wait until they are 18 to sign for a club in the UK, so they are progressing to first teams in the League of Ireland and playing senior football. This is a break from the tradition of players going to England at 16, when they were signed as prospects and any upfront fees were based off their unproven abilities.

This set the market rate for League of Ireland players, in which transfer fees rarely go above five figures.

All of these deals are done despite the new world of Irish football, brought about by Brexit.

These days, academy players with League of Ireland sides are regularly graduating to first-team squads and getting game time.

Lambert said: “The balance has shifted from large numbers of unknown talent to a smaller number of older, proven talents, but still a huge drain on our league.”

There’s no shortage of players who stepped up from underage football and made a name for themselves in a first team before going to England.

In Cork, Jake O’Brien went from academy football to City’s first team to captaining Crystal Palace’s first team against Liverpool in a friendly.

Cathal Heffernan, after weeks of training with the senior squad at Bishopstown, made one senior appearance for Cork City before joining AC Milan on loan.

The biggest financial success of this was Shamrock Rovers: Gavin Bazunu, their goalkeeper, progressed through their academy, earned a call-up to the first team, and impressed in league games against Bray Wanderers and Cork City.

Bazunu also featured in the Europa League for Stephen Bradley’s side and his performances secured a €500,000 transfer to Manchester City. The goalkeeper is now with Premier League side Southampton and he is expected to be the Saints’ number one.

These players developed in a League of Ireland club’s academy, which ensures the best play against the best in the underage national leagues.

Even though these players are going to England on the back of years of development in an elite environment in Ireland, transfer fees are still calculated using pre-Brexit logic.

STRENGTH

Clubs like Cork City and Cobh Ramblers could be strengthened by an agreement between league clubs. They operate in Ireland’s biggest county, a hotbed for footballing talent.

The Republic of Ireland national team has five players in the squad from Cork, and another is out injured. Names from Cork regularly feature on underage sides, like Tyreik Wright and Jake O’Brien with the U21s.

The newest wave of League of Ireland graduates has benefited from Brexit and from getting opportunities in first teams. The onus is on clubs to get better deals for players that will allow greater investment into underage structures.

Lambert even said that “this is essential for academy investment to continue to develop players at all levels”.

Clubs have time to come up with a collective solution to the issue and there is no concern about the lack of talent within domestic clubs.

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