The Football Association of Ireland today named the clubs which will participate in its new SSE Airtricity U17 National League, with the Saints to feature in section 2 of the new competition.
The new National League will provide another step on Ireland's elite player pathway. Its establishment will bridge the gap between schoolboy football which runs up to U16 level and the SSE Airtricity U19 league which is now firmly established as a springboard for young talented players into adult football.
The SSE Airtricity U17 National League will offer elite players, many of whom will have graduated from the FAI's Emerging Talent Programme, their first opportunity to play in a national league, as well as a chance to train, practice and play at an elite level in this age group.
For players at 16 years of age who do not sign for cross channel clubs, it provides an opportunity to move to elite level within Ireland, following in the footsteps of the many players who have gone on to successful professional and international careers after committing to continuing their development through the SSE Airtricity League.
Following receipt of expressions of interest, the U17 National League working group has been engaged in a detailed assessment phase during recent months. The working group reviewed aspects such as facilities, coaching qualifications, and in particular player pathway, with an emphasis on structures linking to senior football. The working group also took geographical location and strategic development of the game nationally into account when making its decisions.
In all, 22 clubs will compete, including 19 SSE Airtricity League clubs (excluding Galway United), as well as Mervue United, Salthill Devon, and the Monaghan United Cavan Football Partnership.
The first season will be truncated, running from August to December, to facilitate the move to a single calendar season. The second season will run alongside the SSE Airtricity League season, from April to November 2016. Clubs will compete in three sections nationally, as shown on the table below.
Bray Wanderers, UCD, Cork City, Cobh Ramblers, Limerick, Waterford United, Cabinteely, Wexford Youths
St Patrick's Athletic, Shamrock Rovers, Mervue United, Salthill Devon, Athlone Town, Sligo Rovers, Bohemians
Derry City, Finn Harps, Shelbourne, Monaghan United Cavan FP, Drogheda United, Longford Town, Dundalk
Each team will play the other teams in their Group on a home and away basis in the first truncated season comprising twelve fixtures. The top two teams in each Group plus the two best third-placed teams will qualify for the quarter finals and the knock out stages.
Speaking today, FAI High Performance Director, Ruud Dokter said, "This is an important improvement to the elite player pathway. With the reforms to the Emerging Talent Programme that came in last September catering for the U11 to U16 age groups, the SSE Airtricity U17 National League will give elite players a national platform to play, and develop in Ireland."
"Previously, we might have lost some elite players at this age group, if they didn't progress into cross channel academy structures. The SSE Airtricity U17 National League will provide an appropriate pathway for these elite players to continue their development on the pathway, through the SSE Airtricity U19 League to a senior career in professional football."
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