Limerick FC coach Willie Boland
THE FAI have introduced an under-15 league at national level, with an under-13 league set to launch soon. With these new leagues, a pathway now exists for players from the age of twelve to progress up a defined ladder within a national framework.
League of Ireland clubs will now be seen by many, as the easiest route for players to play at the highest level of the game in this country, but Limerick FC's Willie Boland knows he still has a job to do, regardless of the newly designed structure.
"With the setup we've got now - the U19s, U17s and the 15s coming into training as well as the U13s, we'd like to be seen as the place where young kids who want to progress further with soccer, would come and play. That way they can play against the best in the country.
"What this does do is give players a better chance of progressing. There'll always be opposition to it because there's a lot of proud clubs who have great tradition. I just think it gives the kids in the area a better chance. We've had players at U19 level that didn't make it, but have become better players and gone back playing at local level” the former underage Irish international added.
"It's easier for scouts because we'd like to think we're the team you'd come to now. When they come across the water, they can see these players playing with the best, against the best - so it's a lot easier to judge," the former Coventry City player added.
Cork can boast a lot of senior internationals over the last thirty years, but it's been a dry spell for Limerick. While Boland isn't exactly sure why, he believes this new pathway may enhance that figure going forward.
He explained: "We've had a lot of schoolboy internationals in the past, up to youth level and then had some success stories where lads have gone across the water.
“We just haven't had that success at the highest level in Ireland - in terms of playing with your country. Hopefully with the FAI's new national platform, our players will learn more from playing against the best in the country consistently and they can advance that way.
"A success would be seeing players getting better as footballers and as people. It's not just the football - we try to instill good moral values in them as well. Success for us would be getting them through U13 level right to the first team, and if we can get players to England, it would be a plus. I'd like more homegrown players playing with Limerick FC."
Boland can boast playing at the highest level - with a decorated career in England, featuring over two hundred appearances for the Bluebirds of Cardiff City.
One of his coaching philosophies is that you learn every day, and you learn most from your mistakes.
"The more mistakes you make, you more you learn. I don't think you've to play the game to be a good coach. I think that's been spelt out at various levels now. Experience is important, but hard work, dedication and a sense of humour comes into it. He outlined.
Boland, who had a spell as head coach of Limerick FC this season, believes that desire is a key to success.
"All these things come into the mix when you're working with younger players. Every player is different. You've to not be afraid of making decisions either. It's about finding the right level for players and that they're enjoying their football.
"If I had to say one [quality a player needs], it would be desire. We can always go down the technical side, but desire and hunger to get to the next level is key. You need a professional attitude. If you approach anything with a professional attitude, you'll do well."
Football is a lot different now than it was when Boland was playing. He highlights social media as something that can really distract young players from having the focus and mindset required to advance.
"I used to have a ball at my feet for hours as a kid. I practiced for hours. But with social media these days, I think kids and players can get affected by it. I think social media is a huge problem with younger kids.
"I'm all for it - I'm on it myself. I use it to keep in contact with people. But I would advise young players not to get too caught up in social media. It's too easy for people to type out what they're feeling at any given moment and regret it afterwards. There's elements of bullying, rumour spreading and lies. It can be quite toxic."
The transition to coaching isn't always easy, and while Boland is chasing a UEFA Pro License at present, he admits there's certain parts of his game he knows he can't carry over to coaching.
"I was easily wound up and it never really worked for me. You can be fired up but in a calmer way. You should be in control of your emotions; whether you're playing or on the sideline. I don't see screaming and shouting working day in, day out. You've to show your teeth once in a while, but in general you can do your job without losing the rag.
"There's a place for that, but if it's done too often, it goes in one ear and out the other. I know that from being a player. I don't think you can shout every little instruction. Don't tell them to pass, shoot or whatever - let them make their own decisions.
“You can give tactical information but it's about players learning - and self-learning. If they continue doing that, they'll be better players."