Citing broken promises and a College sports strategy that favours some clubs over others, Dublin University Association Football Club (DUAFC), the oldest surviving soccer club in the country, are facing a “crisis” that has seen a manager and the Captain resign.
Two weeks ago and only three games into their season, DUAFC Manager, Adrian Fitzpatrick, tendered his resignation to the club’s committee, emphasising his “frustration” with the Department of Sport. This was soon followed by the resignation of club Captain and fourth-year BESS student, Ciaran McGahon, also a 2013-14 sports scholar, who decided to follow his manager’s lead by resigning and subsequently leaving the club.
Fitzpatrick, a highly-qualified coach, is one of only 40 soccer coaches in the country that holds a Uefa Pro Licence. The Uefa Pro Licence, a two-year programme that is compulsory for anyone managing a club within Europe’s top leagues, is the highest coaching accreditation possible and requires the completion of over 240 hours of study on topics ranging from fitness and injury prevention right through to dealing with player agents and transfer protocols.
Since becoming DUAFC manager in 2012, Fitzpatrick had achieved three successive promotions in the Leinster Senior League, a promotion in the College and Universities Football League and a Collingwood Cup final and semi-final during his four years at the club.
Speaking to The University Times after his resignation, Fitzpatrick said: “It’s really with a heavy heart that I am leaving the club, and it’s not what I wanted to or had intended to do. It’s really out of frustration with the Department of Sport that would be the principal reason that I am going. We have had problems with facilities where they have consistently got worse over the last four years. Each year, we are fighting with less and less and finding it more difficult to get places to train.”
“I have all these ideas and coaching sessions that I want to put on and how I feel that I can move the club forward but, literally, when you are running around the dark on a Tuesday night in College Park, we just can’t do it”, he continued.
In a statement on its Facebook page, DUAFC thanked Fitzpatrick for “his tireless work and dedication to men’s soccer in Trinity College over the past four years”.
These resignations have been prompted by a disagreement between DUAFC and the Department of Sport over the use of a new sand-based pitch in Santry, which was a part of a €3 million development of Trinity’s sports grounds. According to Fitzpatrick, as well as DUAFC committee member, Ray O’Malley, the club was originally told by the Department of Sport that it would be able to use the pitch. However, just days before it was completed, the club was informed in an email from Matthew Dossett, who replaced Cathy Gallagher as Sports Development Officer, that the pitch is now to be used exclusively by Trinity GAA.
The area in Santry in which the pitch has been built had been the home of the soccer club for over 25 years. Ahead of construction of the new pitch two years ago, which the Department of Sport referred to as the “Arena Pitch”, the club agreed to give up their pitch to make way for the new development. According to Fitzpatrick, the pitch was given up with the understanding that DUAFC would continue to have access to the pitch for training and matches but would share it with the other main outdoor sports: gaelic football, hurling and camogie. It was also understood that the pitch would potentially be open to the other outdoor sports clubs that use Santry, including American football and ultimate frisbee.
Emails dated from October 2014, seen by The University Times, between Gallagher and O’Malley, appear to confirm that this shared usage was, in fact, the plan. In the email, Gallagher writes: “Hi Ray … Just summarising agreed actions to keep track of progress … new floodlit pitch: will be ready one year from end of sowing period. Soccer WILL have access to the pitch for training and matches.”
Gallagher, who has since become the director of sport at the University of Stirling in Scotland, did not respond to a request for comment from The University Times.
Speaking to The University Times, O’Malley described the moment he realised there was an issue with DUAFC’s use of the sand-based pitch in Santry while emailing Dosset: “We were constantly asking Matt, ‘What’s the update on Santry? What’s the update on Santry?’, and he eventually sent me an email one day saying ‘Why do you keep asking about the Gaelic pitch?’. It was then the penny dropped that there was an issue.”
O’Malley, attempting to resolve the problem, forwarded on the 2014 email conversation between himself and Gallagher discussing the usage of the pitch. Dossett’s reply, seen by The University Times, read: “Hi Ray, Thanks for sending through the detail around your conversation with Cathy from 2014. Although I can see the intention of the meeting, you seem to have been discussing an earlier concept configuration of the pitches. The new floodlit pitch, which is due to open soon, is primarily a GAA pitch, not an ‘arena pitch’”.
O’Malley, in his email correspondence with Dosset, states that it was clear that the pitch being discussed in the 2014 emails with Gallagher was the same floodlit pitch that was about to be handed over, the only difference being that the Department of Sport had apparently ceased calling it the “Arena Pitch”.
In the emails sent to O’Malley, Dosset reiterated that this was not, in fact, the planned “Arena Pitch” nor was the name of it ever changed. Instead, he claimed that this was the GAA pitch, just in the place where the “Arena Pitch” was originally planned to be.
At a meeting between DUAFC and Dossett last week, the club were told that the new GAA pitch will not be able to accommodate other sports. DUAFC were also told that the new the pitch is not even capable of maintaining a quality of surface suitable for the GAA club’s intended level of use. This might mean that the GAA club may either have to find another pitch to train on or some teams within the club will be forced to find another home base.
The lack of facilities available to the soccer club this year has already created difficult situations for the 30 to 40 regular training members as they are forced to train in half of the indoor gym hall for one of their weekly sessions. While on Tuesday nights, the club does have access to the cricket pitch in front of the the Pav, this space is shared with the Trinity Athletics Club. Unlike Santry, however, there are no floodlights for the cricket pitch.
Fitzpatrick described his disappointment that while the Department of Sport have left his club struggling to find suitable facilities, the newly established category of “focus sports” has seen other clubs receive additional support and funding. Referencing the €650,000 investment, which Fitzpatrick says was provided to the Dublin University Hockey Club for a new pitch, and the recently resurfaced rugby pitch, Fitzpatrick said: “They are just moving on to the next level and we are kind of falling behind.”
Trinity’s sports strategy, a 68-page report entitled “Raising Our Game” that was launched at the start of 2016, outlines that the new “focus sports” chosen by the university “will be developed to a standard where Trinity will challenge for honours in those sports, at varsity and national levels”.
Under this new strategy, “focus sports”, which are sometimes known as “pillar sports” – rowing, hockey, rugby and GAA – received extra funding from the Trinity Sport-Bank of Ireland sponsorship deal and have been given priority on facility redevelopments and improvements taking place within the College.
“It’s just more the politics, as you go up the ladder, just the politics of it we seem to be hitting, despite making countless representations on our behalf. We just keep hitting a brick wall”, Fitzpatrick said.
In an email statement to The University Times, Helen Hanley, a College Press Officer speaking on behalf of Trinity Sport, said: “Trinity Sport are disappointed to hear that the men’s soccer club management have decided to bypass a process with which Trinity Sport have been engaged regarding the club’s concerns.”
Referencing the “successful completion” of the first phase of the Outdoors Sports Developments Project, which includes the construction of the new GAA pitch, Hanley said: “The GAA clubs are particularly excited to be back on home turf as they have not had access to a university pitch for over three years. With regard to the men’s soccer club, they currently have access to a prime campus pitch and two pitches at Santry. At no point have the men’s soccer club been told they will not have access to the newly developed pitches.”
Trinity Sport did not comment, however, on why the planned “Arena Pitch” did not go ahead.
DUAFC were initially meant to be a “focus sport”, according to O’Malley: “We were on the record told that we would be one of them, but then when the money was being divvied up we weren’t one of them.”
“It wasn’t Bank of Ireland who decided who got the money it was someone in [Trinity] Sport who decided that”, O’Malley added.
Trinity Sport did not comment on whether Bank of Ireland had any involvement in choosing the new “focus sports” or on whether the soccer club was ever considered a “focus sport”.
According to Fitzpatrick and O’Malley, these latest issues are not isolated incidents of indifference by the Department of Sport towards the club. Instead, Fitzpatrick and O’Malley claim that these examples are just the latest in a long list of examples where suggestions to improve the facilities of the club have either taken too long to address or been ignored.
O’Malley gives the example of when, in January 2013, DUAFC asked the department if it could – at their own financial expense in order to speed up the process – turn the old lights from the hockey pitch in Santry around to shine on the soccer pitch, which would allow the club to run training sessions during the winter months.
Despite turning down the club’s offer to pay for the work, 12 months after the request was made the Department of Sport had the lights turned around. O’Malley explains that this is not an unusual timeline in Trinity: “Like a lot of things in Trinity, saying you’re going to get something done and then going to get them done and then when they are done, there can be six to eight months in the difference.”
Fitzpatrick cites another clash with Trinity Sport, involving three small four-a-side astroturf pitches at Santry. Two years ago, when the pitches were being built, the club asked if the pitches could be divided by a net curtain so that when they were not being used by hockey, the nets could be pulled back leaving one large space suitable for bigger groups to train on. The three pitches, however, went ahead and were built without net curtains.
In their statement to The University Times, neither issue was directly addressed. However, Hanley did state: “Trinity Sport is actively engaged in a process to help develop the sport of soccer for students, and we encourage the men’s soccer club representatives to continue to engage positively in that process.”
Hanley also referenced the second phase of the Outdoor Sports Development Project that will begin once approval has been gained from College. The new developments, according to Hanley, will include an artificial floodlit pitch, as well as soccer and rugby pitches, at Santry.
O’Malley, however, was not confident that anything would change in phase two. Speaking to The University Times over email, O’Malley pointed to the fact that the club has been using Santry for over 25 years: “We feel that other clubs who have not been using the place shouldn’t have taken priority over us. Ideally, the College would prioritise sport and complete the redevelopment in one go thus no club would be ‘favoured’ over others.”