Ireland captain Liam Finn has been left stunned, after the RLI revealed drastic plans that could break up their successful World Cup side.
Finn claims Ireland’s governing body has decided to cut the number of heritage players involved in the Wolfhounds’ senior side to just five, with the remainder of the squad to be made up of domestic players currently playing in Ireland.
The proposal comes just months after Mark Aston’s side came excruciatingly close to reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup after picking up two wins from their three group games.
It’s understood that the vast majority of the World Cup squad have yet to be informed about the proposals put forward despite the European Championships, which provides qualification to the 2021 World Cup, being just three months away.
If the proposals go ahead, it means Ireland will take a side largely made up of amateurs to take on Scotland, Wales and France teams boasting Super League and NRL talent.
Finn, who has played for Ireland since 2007 and captained them for several years, claims he received a phone call on Monday outlining the plans in place.
However, he has slammed those suggestions, saying they are damaging to the sport.
“The reason stated by Richard (Egan) was because of the lack of participation at development level and the amateur game,” Finn said.
“As I told him, I have no idea how that affects participation numbers, especially with the country already providing dual-tier international fixtures which allow domestic players to gain international experience at a level more beneficial to their development. In my opinion, this is the best of both worlds, that many other developing nations can only dream of being able to do.
“After asking for the figures on the new format, having been told by Richard in a previous conversation that all players who played in the World Cup and were available would be selected for this year’s European Championship, which I believe we can win. I have now been informed that the mix will be 12 domestic to 5 professional players in the 17.
“This is obviously being done to try and save face, while laying claim to the idea that RLI is keeping the door open to professional players who show commitment to the country. But it is more a closing of the door, keeping it in-house with a fully domestic team because they know that players playing in England will not get clearance, from their clubs, to play for what will very shortly, after three probable losses in this year’s European championships, be a country relegated to an international tier-three minimum nation, resigned to playing, predominantly fixtures against those nations.
“Moreover, as those fixtures are not normally aligned to the professional season calendar, that again eliminates any possibilities of us playing in them.”
Revealing his anger at a decision which has, in effect, forced him into international retirement, Finn added, “After making my proud Ireland debut against Russia in Carlow in 2007, dislocating my elbow in that game, and playing every year unbroken since then, the powers that be have made a decision which will end my international career and that of many other proud players, with immediate effect.
“After 11 consecutive seasons, and a pride I had never felt before to represent my family, I now have only feelings of disappointment, upset and bitterness towards a board that claims to be for the greater good of the game in Ireland. To me, it is more an excuse to hide behind their own failings to date, within the job, in not being able to run it and develop it properly within the country.”
The Wakefield halfback went on to criticise the work of the RLI to develop the sport in Ireland, and their attempts to build pathways for players. Finn also believes making a team largely consisting of amateur standard players go up against professional sides could cause a welfare issue.
“I have seen more development done by one man at one club to grow the game, with one hand tied behind his back, than by the current board. This has been done mostly through hard work but also, I feel part of that process has been through Casey Dunne’s exposure to the professional international team and coaching and having the intelligence and foresight to implement parts of this within his development structure.
“That is one example of why it works in the current format, and I myself would love to be involved in an Ireland team that contains 90-100% homegrown players. That is something I have tried to help us achieve over 11 years, from working with Stevie Gibbons and Wayne Kerr through to Mikey Russell and Matty Hadden.
“But steaming in and throwing players into a situation they are incapable of succeeding in, en masse, is not only not going to work, it is potentially dangerous both to the players and the opposition. Whereas to continue exposing the best domestic players to the international environment, to have them fighting it out for a spot on an elite team capable of harnessing them, without exposing ourselves, gives those players experience of the higher standards required, which they can then take back to their domestic squads, and clubs, helping to drive improvement that way. Case in point, Casey Dunne.
“Yes, this will take time because unfortunately, the player pool available is inexperienced in this sport which takes time to learn, but I know that it will take even longer, if it happens at all, with players playing only teams within their own ability range and having nothing to aspire to.”
In closing his point, Finn accused the RLI of showing disrespect towards players who have represented the nation previously.
“Lastly, I want to mention the complete disregard and disrespect for the past players in the last 20-30 years, who by the nature of your decision you have now, effectively told – indirectly – that they are not really Irish and should not be proud of having played for them.
“The same people you have had no issue with putting on advertising paraphernalia over the years, as recently as a picture of myself advertising an International fixture that professional players were unavailable for.
“To sum up, I have absolutely no confidence in the current RLI board, who I do not believe have the best interests of many aspiring Ireland RL players at heart, intending to provide instead a mere pathway to becoming the best ex Rugby Union or Gaelic footballer in Ireland who is now playing amateur Rugby League.
“Everyone should aspire to play the best.”