Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers and Michael O'Neill know Northern Ireland's young footballers have catching up to do

Biting back: Where the debate gets started

By Steven Beacom

Brendan Rodgers paused for a second, then provided a thoughtful answer. After his Liverpool team had defeated Shamrock Rovers 4-0 in Dublin on Wednesday I asked the Carnlough man: "Do you think Irish players, north and south, will ever make the impact they used to in the top flight of English football?"

Brendan's reply: "It's a lot more difficult now. A lot of the Irish lads start their apprenticeship at 16, but even then it's too late as boys across the water are beginning at the age of eight and by the time they're 16, they've been trained technically, tactically, physically and mentally and then they're ready to step into full-time football."

On an issue he speaks passionately about, Rodgers added that he felt there was still young footballing talent on this island, but it had to be nurtured correctly to have a chance.

To their credit Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, knowing the effect this will have on the future of our international team, and IFA Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton are now trying to do that.

The problem is, with that side of our game ignored for years, they have only just begun and are starting 10 laps behind their rivals.

Just about every other nation in the world has been nurturing their talented youngsters for years making them technically, tactically, physically and mentally stronger than our kids, who are finding it increasingly hard to break into English League One and Two sides, let alone the Championship and Premier League.

We need everyone else to stop in order to catch up!

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