Garry Haylock: The raw talent is there in the League of Ireland but to compete at the top level requires more than just talentFri, May 19 2017
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There has been an increasing clamour for players from the League of Ireland to be honoured with a call up to the National team with latest being the scoring sensation that is Sean Maguire who would add to honours earned by Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle last season.
It is commendable that both Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have regularly attended games in the League of Ireland and I am absolutely certain that they will receive regular reports about who is deemed to be the better performers on a weekly basis.
This is very different to when I first arrived in Ireland in the early 90s when Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters literally bypassed the League in favour of asking virtually anyone who had played in the Premier League or Championship if they had Irish parentage.
I do recall that some players, who felt they might have been worth a look, were a little indignant at being completely bypassed, but as an Englishman who had played a few games in Division One, I felt that the part time nature of the League meant that competing physically at international was impossibly.
I did have my own brush with international set up at that time when unbeknown to me, a national newspaper report suggested that I might meet the qualifying criteria and so my selection for the U21 team was imminent. It followed that Maurice Setters attended a game on a rainy Friday at Tolka and I duly scored twice as Shelbourne won.
In the bar after the game, the Irish U21 manager approached me and asked me those immortal words in a gruff Yorkshire accent “Where was your grandmother born?” to which I relied “Glasgow”, a slightly bemused Mr Setters then disappeared and I didn’t hear anything more.
All this did confuse me, as I had made it clear to all and sundry that I had absolutely no Irish connections whatsoever and was in the country due to my Huddersfield Town manager, Eoin Hand wanting to toughen me up.
Things did however become a little clearer when I related my encounter with Jack Charlton’s assistant to the legendary Ollie Byrne, secretary at Shels and he started to giggle! He then told me he had planted the story in the press to gain a little publicity, this was not the last time I would fall foul of Ollie’s warped mind!
The exploits of Dundalk in Europe last season only served to show what many have already known, the talent exists in the League to compete at the highest level, however I remain to be convinced that taking a player straight out of the League and putting him on the international stage would work.
It is extremely difficult to significantly raise the standard of your game above the level that you are playing, a player becomes used to the speed of thought and movement required and his mind and body adapts to cope with that level.
International football is the top of the tree and becoming proficient at that level is only attainable if a player is plying his trade somewhere close to it and unfortunately the League of Ireland is not that close, yet. It is something to aspire to but will require full time training for all with top quality facilities and the finances to compete with lower level Premier League clubs.
I do recall returning from playing in Greece where I was fortunate to play for a team that reached the quarter finals of the Cup Winners Cup where we were defeated by a Lazio team that would win that trophy and then go on to win Serie A the following season.
I was asked live on TV if Irish clubs could compete at that level and I made it clear that there was a massive gap, I did suggest that the raw talent was there but being able to consistently compete at the top level requires more than talent.
If Sean Maguire is selected for the National side, I hope he uses the experience to improve himself and returns to Cork with a clear picture of what he needs to work on to reach his goals.
Garry Haylock is a former professional footballer and manager. During his playing career he represented Shelbourne, Dundalk, Linfield and Glentoran, winning the Premier Division twice and the FAI Cup three times, as well as two titles in Northern Ireland and 2 IFA Cups.