Journal publication: “Stepping stones? An exploration of internal football player migration in the Republic of Ireland”

Full text journal article here:

I’m delighted to share my latest journal publication, now available via ‘REGIONAL STUDIES, REGIONAL SCIENCE (Taylor & Francis publications).


The football spatial landscape is a key consideration for the equity of any football association and its constituent members. Organizational processes can shape these landscapes and influence player development. Analysing migratory patterns of youth footballers can provide an insight into such processes. This paper investigates the migratory patterns of underage footballers within the Republic of Ireland development pathway. The sample consisted of n=1937 youth footballers who had been selected onto the Football Association of Ireland’s primary talent development programme, the Emerging Talent Programme (ETP), between 2006 and 2012. Analysis shows clear migratory patterns towards the Dublin District Schoolboy League (DDSL), primarily from a double-tiered level of migration around Dublin. Clubs that had developed reciprocal relationships with clubs in the UK and were more prominent at underage level were the most common location for internally migrating footballers. Research has historically neglected internal patterns of migration, focusing on transnational football migration. Internal patterns of migration demonstrate inequity across the football development pathway and may result in potential sources of talent being neglected or improperly developed which is a cause of concern within smaller national associations.

What did the paper aim to do?

This analysis aimed to investigate patterns of talent development within youth Irish football. Anecdotally, we are aware of internal migration patterns to the DDSL, this study aimed to investigate these movement patterns in detail.  

Key figures and findings:

Most leagues had no or minimal migration of players. This pattern was quite different for the DDSL. Figures are complicated by some clubs being on county borders etc., but this was controlled for as much as possible.  

When this migration into Dublin was analysed further, clear patterns emerged regarding the countries that most players were drawn from (darker = more players migrating in figure 2).

So what?

As a small Football Association with a numerically limited talent pool, the FAI needs to be particularly strategic in terms of talent development. Previous studies have shown that there is unequal access to the FAI’s talent development pathways (find out more here RAE in Irish football & place of birth). How we develop pathways to allow all players from around the country to have access to playing opportunities, quality coaching, exposure to scouts etc., is key to our long-term success as a footballing nation.

Irish underage football is undergoing significant changes. It will be interesting to revisit these patterns in a few years to see if the regional spread of talent development has indeed happened via the underage League of Ireland pathways.

This is part of a wider PhD on talent development in football (read more here: ).

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