With this year’s League of Ireland drawing ever closer to it’s conclusion, Conor Hayes takes us through three of the main talking points from gameweek 30, including the merits of the First Division, Brian Lenihan’s Ireland call-up and the promise the FAI Cup final holds this year.
The First Division still has purpose
Congratulations must be given to Longford Town who secured their return to the top flight of Irish football after a seven year absence with a 5-0 thrashing of Shamrock Rovers B on Friday night. A bumper crowd of over 2,000 saw them claim the First Division crown and hopefully most will come back when they take to the field as a Premier Division team next March.
With the league floundering; as it is almost every week we get suggestions on what can be done to improve standards across the board. Many of these begin with, or include dropping the second tier and creating a fourteen or sixteen team league.
With crowds in the first division as pitiful as they are and the media coverage almost non-existent this is understandable but there are a number of issues with simply binning the division and creating a unified tier.
First of all, what exactly would teams play for in this new-look Premier Division? Three or four teams may challenge for a title (if we’re lucky) while the rest play out meaningless seasons. Crowds are even worse in this league when teams have nothing to play for come the second half of the season, as fans of Sligo Rovers, Bohemians and Limerick will testify to this year.
It’s also true that promotion and relegation keeps neutral interest (there is some in the league) going up until the closing matches of the season as well as fans of other clubs who are intrigued as to how it all plays out.
Many will point out a play-off system could be introduced to generate some late season interest in a single tier system but unless we go down the road of rugby league, more than half the clubs will still be left out. Call this writer old fashioned but there’s also the assertion that a league should be a league, and that the final standings are sacrosanct.
Galway could be used as an example this season of how the second tier can work. In their first season back in senior football the club will face off against Shelbourne for a chance to play in a promotion play-off game. A successful start to the rejuvenation process of the club. In a scenario where they enter a one team league they are likely to get hammered every week and interest in the team falls away quickly.
While trotting all this out, with only eight teams involved (one of those being a reserve team who may pull the plug) the division’s future hardly looks rosy. Financially, the clubs are the poorer cousins of their already destitute Premier Division relatives. Once again, there are more problems pointed out and not really a solution offered but this writer does believe a one division utopia is fraught with issues.
Positives should be taken from Brian Lenihan’s Ireland senior international call-up
Thirty-seven days after joining Hull City from Cork City, Brian Lenihan is in the senior Ireland squad. As ever in the League of Ireland, what appears like good news on the surface can always be interpreted the other way.
Those, like Martin Russell, who saw it as a slight on the league that the full back could only receive a call-up once he left this island are correct. Those too, who pointed out that his Irish team-mates at Hull might have had something to do with him jumping the queue into the squad are also on the money.
However, Ireland is not the only place where this is a problem. Getting into the England squad often seems based on where, rather than how you are playing. The news that Tyler Blackett was being considered for a call-up by Roy Hodgson last month, purely on the basis he had played a few minutes for Mancheter United is testament to this.
Ireland’s assistant manager had seen Lenihan play for his club in the league on more than one occasion so we can be sure someone in the backroom staff knows of his abilities. It’s encouraging too that the man thought to be the most hard done by the drafting of the 20-year-old is Matt Doherty, a player signed from Bohemians by Wolves in 2010.
The league’s path to improvement lays in its clubs producing excellent young players and Lenihan is yet another example of how Cork have led the way in this regard.
The two FAI Cup finalists have the potential to produce another memorable occasion
Derry City booked their place in the FAI Cup final last night as two late goals gave them victory over Shamrock Rovers at the Brandywell in their replayed semi-final. For St. Pat’s the task was much easier as they outclassed Finn Harps on Sunday afternoon with a 6-1 thumping of the Ballybofey outfit. That result, admittedly, did little to help the case for the First Division.
This will be the third final in recent times between the pair and while the 2006 game will forever be remembered as a classic, the 2012 edition was also an excellent match. The Inchicore side have beaten Derry on the two occasions they have met this season with Peter Hutton in the Candystripes’ dugout.
The Saints will enter the game as favourites but Pat’s fans will recall that they lost out in the 2006 and 2012 showpieces knowing that they should have bridged their long wait for a cup triumph.
Conor Hayes, Pundit Arena.
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