St Francis lodged their expression their interest in rejoining the League of Ireland on Tuesday following a 30-year gap as part of the Baldonnel club’s ambitious development plan.
They are hoping to sit down with the FAI to discuss next steps to “consider the feasibility either now or in the future of having, not just a senior team, but underage teams for both boys and girls, playing in the national leagues”.
It is the latest step in the rejuvenation of the club that was the last amateur side to reach the FAI Cup final back in 1990 and played in the League of Ireland First Division around the turn of the millennium.
Since then, the adult team has gone through tough times and could not complete the 2015/16 season in the Leinster Senior League due to a lack of players.
Since then, John Hyland Park has undergone a transformation with a new astro pitch and state of the art, 180 square metre gym in situ, while a number of underage internationals got their start at the club.
The senior side has earned a couple of promotions, returning back into intermediate football with a side aiming to use players coming through the youth setup.
And it is with those young stars in mind that the club is keen to create pathway from the very beginning to stay with St Francis, wherever their footballing journey takes them.
“The ethos of St Francis has always been to create an environment where kids can make friends first, develop physically, and then have a pathway for the rest of their football lives,” committee member Dave Bergin said to the Dublin Gazette.
“We have instilled this in our football plan which is all about pathways – the community path, the DDSL path and we are exploring the LOI pathway.
“We also want to have a pathway to education – our area is diverse, some wealthy pockets but also ones with socio-economic issues. We want to show them there is a pathway. It’s something football doesn’t always take into consideration, so we are looking at a number of third level institutions to come on board.”
As such, the focus is on the homegrown with Bergin saying St Francis is in the business of growth from within.
“We want to keep them in a structure and environment that looks after you and is not there to ship you on to the next League of Ireland club or send you on a boat to England. We want them to be comfortable and have a pathway – whichever one you choose to follow
“It’s about keeping kids in a safe environment and not to have their heads turned or worried about what club to go to.
“If you are good enough, you will make it but we have the facilities here which are second to none and we can help them develop, not just as a footballer but as an individual as well in an academy-style set-up, mentally as well as physically.”
As part of their holistic approach from youngest to oldest, the club is now running simple fitness, motion and nutrition programmes for their youngest members.
“It may sound elitist, but it is just around basic motor skills and simple ways to eat right. With the lockdown, a large number of players came back overweight because people were down money and budgets were tight which made some healthy options unavailable.
“We want to keep them in a structure and environment that looks after you and is not there to ship you on to the next League of Ireland club or send you on a boat to England. We want them to be comfortable and have a pathway – whichever one you choose to follow.”
Bergin is part of a board that features club members who were part of their previous foray into the League of Ireland between 1997 and 2001 with chairman Sean Foley in place while vice chairman Kevin Smith a player in the 1990 team.
Their tenure in the First Division ended when a proposed merger with St Patrick’s Athletic fell through. With Shamrock Rovers now based just around the M50 in Tallaght, it looks like south-west Dublin could be overloaded with clubs but Bergin believes St Francis will offer something unique and have the potential to build their own fanbase.
“We have a lot of the learnings from the 1990s when things went well and didn’t go well; that rich experience. We are grounded in those terms; it’s not a new bunch of people who think we are going to run away with things. We are working toward a long road.
“Our fans are our members now. We are in a strong catchment area, planning for the next few years.
“It will be a built-up area which needs an outlet for social and education needs. We have to push to be an option for them. Not too many clubs have the facilities like us! There’s a huge area there which is growing and growing. We don’t see it as being an issue.
“We have the infrastructure; we own our land. We have a progressive plan which we are implementing. You have to have an objective as a club to have a focus.
“If we can deliver what we are trying, we will be unique and will be a really strong enviroment for our members to grow. Any success on the back of it in a structure that works for the League of Ireland would be the cherry on the cake.”