With transfer fees soaring, many Irish League managers are finding themselves utterly priced out of the market and having to review recruitment policies.
But one club in the Danske Bank Premiership, Dungannon Swifts, has relied on producing its own talent over the years to join the big boys and retain their top-flight status for almost two decades now.
Joe McAree oversaw that elevation alongside current Head of Development Dixie Robinson, both knowing they would have to develop and produce their own talent to try and compete.
Passion and good coaching are the keystones for success, says Robinson, who has been at the Tyrone club for 38 years, having been signed as a player by McAree before taking on various coaching roles.
“Passion, love of the club, and, without wanting to blow any trumpets, the calibre of our coaching staff has really helped our young players develop at the club,” says Robinson.
“We don’t have a big support so we can’t compete financially with some of the bigger clubs, so we have always been big on youth development at Dungannon.
“It’s a case of needs must.
“Joe started it and I got involved. I was interested.
“In actual fact, Rodney McAree and Darren Murphy were two of the first crop of youngsters to come through and they did alright for themselves.
“Mark McAllister and JP Gallagher played in the 2007 Irish Cup Final against Linfield, then they were signed by the Blues, along with Jamie Tomelty.
“David Scullion was in the same team and went on to score the winning goal in the 2015 Irish Cup Final for Glentoran, Michael Ward also.
“Niall McGinn and Luke McCullough were in Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland squad to play in the Euro 2016 Finals in France and Liam Donnelly is another current international who came through the ranks here.
“Dermot McCaffrey went to Hibs and played Under-21 international football and then we have a number of players who have left Dungannon to sign professional deals with clubs in England.
“Conor Bradley is at Liverpool, as is goalkeeper Liam Hughes. Conor played in the same team as Sean McAllister and Aaron Donnelly, who are with Everton and Nottingham Forest respectively — not at academies, on full-time professional contracts. It’s phenomenal.
“Darren Robinson is another one, only 17 yet he was on the bench for Derby County last weekend.
“They all came through Dungannon.
“Michael Forbes from Ardboe, he signed for West Ham a year and a half ago when he was only 16. He is another bright young talent.
“And of course we can claim a GAA All-Ireland winner in Niall Morgan, who won it with Tyrone last year. I believe he could have had a successful career in football had he chosen that path.”
Darragh McBrien and Oisin Smyth are two of the current crop of young players catching the eye of rival teams, with Linfield backing away from the former and Glentoran considering the latter.
It is a well travelled path for young Swifts as Stangmore Park has proved to be a stepping stone to trophy success with other clubs, having earned the experience they need.
“Seanan Clucas (Glentoran), Chris Hegarty, Jarlath O’Rourke (both Crusaders), Jamie Glackin (Coleraine), Paul McElroy (Ballymena), they all came through Stangmore Park,” says Robinson.
“We have a close relationship with Dungannon United Youth, for whom I am a Director, so when they leave Dungannon United when they are 15, the young players can move to the Swifts where I oversee their development from ages 16 to 18.
“If you’re playing for the Swifts when you are 20, it’s likely you will have played over 50 games for the club. Young players will get opportunities here.
“Dean Shiels’ current side is littered with young talent, with a few experienced players as well.
“Terry Devlin has been excellent, Darragh McBrien, Oisin Smyth, Ethan McGee, Caolin Coyle, Ben Gallagher, James Convie, Cahal McGinty, Rhyss Campbell, they are an excellent group of young players, all in and around the age of 20.
“Some managers’ hands are tied, they cannot risk throwing a 17-year-old in at the deep end, which is understandable, whereas we give young players a platform because we have to.
“Dean has been fantastic, he is so passionate about the game and he has the energy that perhaps I don’t have anymore, but I like to think I have the experience.
“The Chairman, Keith Boyd, is very supportive of me and gives me a free rein with youth development and we will always deliver, because of the standard of coaching.
“I am only the focal point or the figurehead, there are lots of coaches and staff dedicated to the club and we are very grateful to them.
“I love what I do for the club because it’s not a science, there’s something new every day, whether you’re coaching six-year-olds or 16-year-olds.
“You see a touch, a shot, a passage of play and you think, ‘One day this lad could play for the Swifts’, and that gives you a real buzz.”
Rodney McAree → Bristol City
Darren Murphy → Portadown
Mark McAllister → Linfield
JP Gallagher → Linfield
Jamie Tomelty → Linfield
Niall McGinn → Derry City
Chris Hegarty → Millwall
Luke McCullough → Man Utd
Liam Donnelly → Fulham
Conor Bradley → Liverpool
Liam Hughes → Celtic
Sean McAllister → Everton
Aaron Donnelly → Nottm Forest
Darren Robinson → Derby
Michael Forbes → West Ham
David Scullion → Glentoran
Michael Ward → Glentoran
Dermot McCaffrey → Hibernian
Seanan Clucas → Preston NE
Jamie Glackin → Crusaders
Jarlath O’Rourke → Crusaders
Paul McElroy → Crusaders