A peculiarly bleak atmosphere lingered in the stands during Dundalk FC’s 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers last Tuesday night.
Hoops supporters riled the home fans by applauding each of the seemingly endless line of players who hobbled to the touchline and wasted an extra few minutes. Perhaps Dundalk fans have become a little too pampered by success and don’t react kindly to a well organised side infuriating the hell out of them. Despite the tension, both sets of fans did occasionally sing together, united and boisterous. The lyrics to their song were simple: f**k Delaney and the FAI.
Perhaps Dundalk FC’s recent European heroics are bringing further attention to the FAI’s blatant negligence of its own league. Love them or hate them, Dundalk FC have put the league on the map this year, yet the more they accomplish in Europe, the worse it makes the FAI look.
After all, it was just four years ago when the fans saved the penniless club from the brink of extinction. No help from the FAI. Now, after a barrage of trophies and a continuing series of head turning displays on the continent, the club are set for a lush windfall. No help from the FAI.
Dundalk would have to win the league 63 times before the prize money would match what Uefa are set to reward them. It all started from such a small place, a devoted set of volunteers and supporters. It could happen to any cash strapped League of Ireland club. But it would have to happen without the help of the FAI.
Why should Delaney help the league? It is, as he puts it, a problem child. Common sense dictates that a problem child needs attention? Not with the FAI. Delaney had other important plans. Such as a summer trip to France with his pretty girlfriend. He excitedly looked on as the Ireland team earned his association €11 million. The triumphant squad’s strong link to the League of Ireland was deservedly acknowledged. Shouldn’t some of that prize money be invested into that malnourished league like the Icelandic FA did? There’s been no suggestion this might happen at all.
It is possible that Uefa’s gift to the Lilywhites may render them untouchable in the league for the foreseeable future. Yet this is unlikely. Plans are in place to repair their deplorable stadium or perhaps move due to a legal dispute with the lease holder of Oriel Park. Also, as the league remains an unattractive habitat, one cannot blame Dundalk’s gifted players and genius manager if they wished to further their careers elsewhere.
The title could even slip from their grasp this season due to a hectic schedule and a relentless Cork City side. Most leagues take a two-month break. The League of Ireland takes four, plus two weeks in the summer (three this season). Wouldn’t it be sensible to shorten the break and ease some of the fixture congestion? Nope.
Perhaps it is fair to suggest that the FAI hadn’t planned for one of their teams to make it this far in Europe. But they have, Mr. Delaney. And the eyes of the continent are suddenly thrust upon your league and probably wondering how the hell such a fine team managed to emerge from it.
League of Ireland fans have cried out for help since the beginning of time. The only way some have been silenced is when their club went out of business. The FAI have been hesitant to invest in something that apparently produces little talent. This year’s progress has silenced that argument. Will the FAI take this opportunity and silence its critics, or let it pass by and allow its league to slowly die, alone.
Robbie Ryan, Pundit Arena