If it was about redemption for Stephen Kenny, that wasn’t on display. Returning to the club that felt he fell short and to the area of Dublin where he grew up, on the surface, there was a point to be made. But it wasn’t about that. It was about more than him, it was about Irish football.
Some detractors abounded outside the ring of solace and solidarity; the money generated would contribute to a lopsided league to be dominated by Dundalk. But the by-product of the victory over BATE runs deeper than that.
On Tuesday night Dundalk were the League of Ireland. They represented the community, the band of supporters. Those who tire of the lack of support, the apathy to the league’s existence, the lack of effort of others. Those who are in love with the nuances of club football in Ireland, who appreciate the genuine quality that exists, the love of a team that’s a part of our society and history.
It’s difficult to envisage any other league familiar to ours were the same reaction would have been felt en masse. The question, when you examine it, is probably; why?
— SSEAirtricity League (@SSEAirtricityLg) August 3, 2016
There’s no love misplaced between Dundalk and fellow sides as much as in any other league. Why should there be? But in the build-up to the game there were genuine wishes of luck made from most clubs in some form or another on social media. That Cork City fans shared in the euphoria of David McMillan’s and Robbie Benson’s goals was unique in the sense of the collective. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, there is the satisfaction in seeing the ability that exists in the league representing itself. Not the potential, or the possibilities, but the evidence that what exists is a league of quality. Where players take a game to an apparently superior opposition and stretch them, exploiting space and playing in a controlled manner. These weren’t backs-to the-wall, last gasp tackling heroics. Despite the initial nerves and caution, Dundalk grew with the game and grew with the idea that they weren’t BATE’s equals, but their superiors.
Secondly, there is the knowledge that what happened in Tallaght heightens awareness. That this league exists and that it is worthy. Newcomers should be welcomed. If Lansdowne Road fills for a glamour fixture, so be it. No one has the right to laud their loyalty over others. How can a following grow if there are negative connotations for getting on board?
Nothing has worked in recent years to grow the League of Ireland in a sustainable way; however, a platform has now been provided.
We’d be mistaken to let this opportunity slip.
Brian Strahan, Pundit Arena