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Aaron Callaghan: The Colleges & Universities Football League should take over the SSE Airtricity League First Division

I was at the launch of the Colleges & Universities Football League 2016/ 2017 season in Abbottstown on Wednesday and was very impressed with the commitment and passion communicated by Fran Gavin from the FAI, Mark Scanlon National Coordinator for Schools, Colleges and Universities in Ireland and from the Irish soccer media.

This season’s Leagues will see 108 teams from 50 Third Level institutions compete across five divisions.

Last year, there were 2,811 registered players in third level football across the various different divisions.

It is a huge opportunity for students across the universities and colleges to play football whilst more importantly availing of scholarship opportunities.

I am managing Maynooth University for a second season and I have to admit thoroughly enjoying this experience. University & Colleges soccer is a rapidly growing industry which has seen great success in recent years for supplying a conveyer belt of players to nearly all Airtricity league clubs.

UCD have been the benchmark for all other Colleges and Universities to follow but I now believe the competition is a level playing field.

The top leagues North & South is flooded with players currently plying their trades for the top clubs which has raised the standards across the Country.

One of the key questions I would like to ask the FAI. Could this Colleges and Universities league replace the current Airtricity’s 1st Division graveyard league?

It is well documented that most of the clubs in the 1st division are having financial problems across the board and with the cost of competing over the course  of a season coming close to €150,000 it makes more sense to me that the Colleges & Universities Football League should replace the 1st Division.

Now I am not writing off clubs by any stretch of the imagination but existing 1st division clubs should set up partnership agreement with their local Colleges & Universities.

Waterford United is currently in talks with Waterford I.T. to look at new ways to attract young players to the club.

But if the Colleges & Universities new league was established most clubs would be able to avail of state of the art modern training facilities, up to date sports science information, education and training opportunities and having managed UCD in the past I believe the college sports system knows how to maximize young player’s potential.

You only have to look at the current Dundalk team which has Robbie Benson, Ciaran Kilduff, Ronan Finn, Andy Boyle and David McMillan who all came through the UCD system as well rounded players but more importantly excellent characters.

The new league would be food for thought in my eyes but we would have to get the relevant stakeholders around the table for a frank and open discussion going forward. Dundalks recent success has raised a few eyes internationally for our league and we can’t stop the progress and momentum that has been created to date.

Advantages of the New Colleges & Universities 1st Division League:

  • Reduce the costs of running a football club over the course of a season
  • Players train daily in quality facilities and compete against other elite players;
  • The college system in the Ireland is a stepping stone to become a professional player;
  • A vast range of degree/ diploma options at renowned, accredited Colleges & Universities;
  • The experience of living, studying, playing and traveling in Ireland;
  • Supports and networks already in place from Colleges and Universities;
  • New identity attached to College and Universities infrastructures.
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