In December it was announced that Ronan Finn would leave Dundalk after a successful two years at the club – returning to Shamrock Rovers where he played between 2011 and 2014.
A backwards step on the surface. Dundalk had achieved history by becoming the first Irish team to secure a win in a European group stage match after their 1-0 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in September.
They also won their third consecutive league title and won an FAI Cup in 2015, so why would he leave? It wasn’t for the same reasons that Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle left to go to Preston; Shamrock Rovers isn’t exactly a big move after winning three league titles in a row.
It is rumoured that Finn was offered a part-time job to accompany a more lucrative wage packet at Shamrock Rovers. Considering Dundalk’s €7 million plus earnings from Europe, common sense screams that wages were not a major issue.
As Daniel McDonnell reported in the Irish Independent just before Finn’s move was confirmed:
“It’s believed that Finn – who turns 29 tomorrow – is tempted by a move that also includes the provision of a part-time job outside of football that will allow him to plan for the longer term future.”
And that in essence sums up the league. As a country we are exposed to the Premier League more so than the League of Ireland and assume footballers are all earning crazy money that we could only dream of but the reality for players in the league is very different.
A few years ago, during the boom, the likes of Finn could be earning up to €3,500-a-week, as per the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland general secretary Stephen McGuinness, but now the top players could earn approximately €1,000-a-week on a 40-week contract.
At 28, the chances of Finn earning big money in England are slim to none and he must now look at a career after football.
As McGuinness notes in 2015, when speaking to The Irish Times:
“I think if you’re with one of the four of five clubs who think of themselves as being title contenders, then you’re probably doing fairly okay again, but there’s a big, big drop after that. We have a lot of lads who were earning €500 or €600 a few seasons ago who are getting a third of that now, with maybe the odd bonus clause thrown in.
“Quite a few players simply don’t feel it’s worth it and are dropping out of the league. It’s one of the reasons we have the lowest average age of any league in Europe.”
The league now offers little sustainability for footballers, and Finn’s reported part-time job highlights the conditions which these footballers are working under.
As for his previous club; Dundalk are really sitting in a catch 22 situation. They are a product of hard work and commitment, with their fitness coach Graham Byrne having them in the gym up to four times a week.
“We were renowned for being the fittest team in the league, so it was about us getting as fit as the European teams this year,” he told Pundit Arena.
And that is what Dundalk did, matching up physically to European giants Zenit St Petersburg and creating a shock factor when teams visited Tallaght Stadium. To get to that level required a serious amount of commitment, a level of commitment that may not be sustainable for the likes of Finn.
Training and matches could occupy up to six days of a Dundalk player’s week and given the top players are only earning €1,000 it is understandable seeing Finn leave to move to Rovers, a less demanding training schedule, a job and a similar wage packet too.
Success in the League of Ireland is almost detrimental to a club. Dundalk have lost a number of key players from their successful squad. Some are poached by English clubs and others realise that domestic success in Ireland is one thing but a sustainable future is another.
The league is simply not lucrative enough to support success and Finn and Dundalk have proven that.
Darragh Culhane, Pundit Arena