Tom O’Connor gives his views on some of the positive aspects of the League of Ireland as the 2014 season nears its end.
This author is getting a bit fed up with all the league bashing going on in this country. People who have never set foot in a LOI ground talk rubbish about the standard of football in the league; the pitches, the refereeing, how the Premier League is so much better etc.
If you support Manchester United, Chelsea etc. and travel to Manchester or London twice a year then great, good for you but stop whining about something you know nothing about.
To the people who attend matches, listen to commentaries, watch live games, read blogs, articles, newspapers etc and have an opinion on the game – yes you are right when you say the pitches could be improved, the grounds could be modernised, the crowds could be bigger etc.
There are many fine articles on how we could improve the league, some contained in this very website, but this article isn’t about that, here Pundit Arena’s Tom O’Connor takes a look at the positives of the League of Ireland.
David Forde, Stephen Ward, David Meyler, James McClean, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Seamus Coleman, Wes Hoolahan all played LOI football to a high enough standard to be considered for a move to England and then, ultimately the international team.
The key element for a league should be the improvement of the national side. The Premier League is a separate business model to the FA and I have no doubt that this is a key element in the lack of success with regard to the England team. Ex-England under 21 manager Stuart Pearce claimed he was deprived the services of some of his players due to various reasons.
I’ve yet to hear of Noel King having the same problem. Yes, in an ideal situation most of the Irish team would play in their domestic league but let’s look at the positives – the LOI is helping to launch/relaunch player’s careers and help them become internationals.
Stephen Ward was a key player in Bohs’ success before he left; Derry City helped David Forde become Ireland’s number 1, James McClean also lit up the Brandywell before crossing the water while Keith Fahey’s first stint at St Pat’s highlighted the fact that he too was ready for international football.
Yes, it can be questioned as to why LOI players aren’t really getting a look in until they leave this island but let’s focus on the positive in this article and the fact that the league is benefitting the national side by giving players a chance to shine and ‘get their move’. It’s not ideal but it’s more beneficial than players sitting in an English club’s reserve side for years.
Young talents getting a chance to shine at a competitive level
As I’ve just mentioned, people might argue that it’s a tragedy the fact the LOI is losing some of its top players to England every year but why not praise the fact that we get to see top class Irish talents play in their domestic leagues? Yes, it might not be for a long time but for the period they’re here, they are playing competitive football against decent opposition.
The likes of Seamus Coleman, Brian Lenihan, Kevin Doyle, James McClean, Ben McLaughlin, Aaron McCarey don’t have hundreds of LOI appearances behind them, but when they were here they stood out.
People will look back in years to come and talk about the time they saw a 16-year-old light up Oriel Park from right back (McLaughlin who’s now at Everton) or a 17-year-old become the number 1 at Monaghan United (McCarey who’s now the substitute keeper at Wolves).
These players have played first team football from a young age and have the confidence when they leave the LOI that they can cut it at first team level. The LOI gives them this experience and is far more beneficial than playing uncompetitive reserve team football at that age, as would be the case for youth players in England.
The amount of Irish players who have played senior LOI football and have then travelled across the water to become a success is much higher, percentage wise, than those who leave for England to play at youth team level.
I’m open to correction on that but I can’t think of many who have played LOI at 17-21 years and returned from England without having made a decent career, whereas there are quite a number who got their ‘dream move’ at 15/16 and are back in Ireland either playing LOI now, having failed to make the grade in England, or have finished with football altogether.
In a previous article, I spoke about how Alan Cawley and Damien O’ Meara felt that patriotism was a key element in promoting the league and, once more, I agree wholeheartedly but let’s look at what level of patriotism currently exists within the league. While we don’t have anything like Borussia Dortmund’s yellow wall or the cacophony of La Bombonera during the Buenos Aires derby, neither do we have lads with Cork accents cheering for Derry City or Finn Harps.
Yes there may be the odd Leesider who has relocated to Ballybofey or the Bogside but, in general, we’re quite a parochial group. Turn on 606 after any Premier League game and you’re guaranteed to hear at least three or four Londoners – one’s a Manchester City fan, one’s Man United and then a Spurs and an Arsenal fan.
Glory hunters – not all, but how many of the Old Trafford crowd are from Manchester? Yes, you may have supported Man United since the 1970s but if you’re from Oldham then they’re not your local team! This doesn’t exist in Ireland- there isn’t a bus load travelling from Limerick to Dalymount to follow Bohs every second week.
Most people, this author included, as a long suffering Leeds United fan, have a favourite club in England but they support their local LOI club. For me, this is to be commended. In the Shed in Oriel, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City supporters all congregate for two hours to cheer on Dundalk FC.
Yes, there might be slagging about each other’s teams and players but, at the end of the day they’re standing on the terrace chanting in unison for the Lilywhites and spending their time and money at Oriel Park. That’s what it’s about and what the Game On lads are discussing. The support is there, let’s just mind it more.
Excitement throughout the league
This year the league might come down the last match of the season – first versus second, winner takes all. Two teams, who a few years ago were fighting for their financial futures are standing on the brink of greatness.
Both proud clubs with a proven history of success. Between the two they have won five of the last 30 Premier Division titles. The last league title won by both clubs was the First Division; Cork in 2011 and Dundalk in 2008. They weren’t meant to both be slugging it out for the title this year.
Dundalk finished second in the league last year but that was wholly unexpected, but was that just a flash in the pan? And Cork City were starting the season with a striker not long out of junior football, could they challenge?
Both teams have pulled away at the top of the league and have had incredible results all year. They have been a tribute to their excellent managers and passionate fans but does that mean that the fans of other clubs have had to sit back and watch this drama unfold enviously? Not a hope!
There’s drama at the bottom, where Keith Long is valiantly trying to keep Athlone Town in the league after their horrific start to the season. Every result they get is edging them towards safety and the impossible dream is still on.
Sligo have their third manager since last season, Derry City have their second manager of the season while UCD and Bray aren’t safe from relegation and Drogheda are approaching the stability of mid table under Damien Richardson following the Louth club parting company with Robbie Horgan.
Limerick fans are watching to see if their links with an academy in Ghana will bear fruit on the field with the debuts of goalkeeper Ali Abass and Prince Agyemang while Bohs are keeping an eye on Owen Heary’s development as a manager and hoping that Jason Byrne stays with them next year to potentially break Brendan Bradley’s Irish goalscoring record.
It’s not perfect but it’s our league and I, for one, love it. Yes it can be improved but, for once, let’s not be Irish in our outlook and say it’s not a bad wee league after all.
Tom O’Connor, Pundit Arena.
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