LONG READ | Osam and Donohue on football's return
Next week Republic of Ireland Under 15s Head Coach Jason Donohue will hit the 500-days mark too, his most recent game against Czech Republic in February 2020.
This forthcoming season both managers will be in the unique position of simultaneously overseeing a group of players who are sampling international football for the first time.
Both coaches were back out on the pitches this week holding assessment days at the AUL Complex in Dublin as they ran the rule over the country’s top talent at their respective age groups.
However, the wait for their next international football match goes on.
Like each Irish underage international Head Coach they have had to be patient to get the green light for the return of international football - something near impossible for those who live and breathe the game. Last year, a return to underage football saw coaches host assessment days and training camps for their latest cohorts. But while their respective age groups got the go-ahead to gather for training, the international matches weren’t forthcoming due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In-house friendlies against National League opposition (and even fellow Irish underage age teams) were agreed, arranged, then cancelled as Ireland tried to get to grips with the ever-changing picture of the pandemic.
As the darker evenings grew closer, the reality that Osam’s 2005 intake wouldn’t see U16 action became starker while Donohue’s 2006 group would have to first sample international football in 2021 under Osam. A year of underage international games left unfulfilled.
But as the summer approaches and with fans returning to stadiums across the country, there's renewed hope all underage international football is closer than ever.
Looking ahead to the challenge for this year, Paul Osam said: “It’s great to be back doing what we love.
“Because of the last 18 months, players haven’t been assessed so we don’t know where players are at.
“It’s really starting afresh. Under normal circumstances these players would have been whittled down to 30 players who would have been seen to be the best at that stage of their careers.
“Everybody has an opportunity, the league is starting back soon, we have a large number of scouts available to us throughout the country. I’ll be getting to games as well. We’ll get there but it’s going to be different to other years.”
Jason Donohue held the first of three assessment days last Thursday. He added: “The process of the emerging talent and me linking in with the head of youth development of the clubs has been a great help in the off season.
“I’ve held Zoom calls with as many teams as I could to outline what is happening going forward. They’ve been great because the players are at the core of everything we’re trying here.
“Even though the 2006s missed out on their year, the 2007s missed out on most of their year in the national academies as well. Usually, you have around 45 to 50 players from ID monitoring systems but we don’t have that and so I have 90 players coming in – and that’s only to give me a baseline.
“Myself and my staff are going to get to see as many matches as we can between now and the end of July to make sure every player is looked at. Every player is treated transparently and hopefully we get the right squad.”
Of course, it’s not just the U16s and U15s who have suffered an international football drought.
Under-19s Head Coach Tom Mohan has had to wait since November 2019 to see a U19s side of his kick a ball in anger. In recent weeks he has looked at around 60 players in camps in Ireland and the UK as he prepares for the UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifiers in the autumn.
Under-17s Head Coach (and newly appointed Under-18s Head Coach) Colin O’Brien last took an international game in February 2020. O’Brien’s U17s had qualified for the Elite Phase of the 2020 European Under-17 Championship qualifiers with a 100 per cent record before the tournament was pulled. Later this month he will host Under-17s assessment days he also prepares for EUROs qualification action later this year.
Women’s Under-19s Head Coach Dave Connell’s 15 month-wait to get back out on the touchline came to an end with a 3-0 win against Northern Ireland last Wednesday. Like O’Brien, his team had qualified for the Elite Phase of their respective EUROs before the tournament was axed.
As did the Women’s Under-17s Head Coach James Scott. A 1-1 draw against Iceland in February 2020 at the RSC in Waterford was his last game in charge, a squad that included Ellen Molloy who has since made her debut for the Women’s National Team.
As the FAI celebrates its 100th year it’s hoped the latest players taking their first steps in our famous green jersey will look to a brighter future and that the last 18 months is the only interruption to their pathway to senior international football.