The way out west

Success of Connacht Rugby has set an example for the League of Ireland

“Once we set our standards for the top, this league will take off.”

JOHN CAULFIELD HAS outlined his hopes for the future of the League of Ireland, insisting that improved TV coverage and the employment of dedicated staff are necessities for its welfare and growth.

The Cork City manager is adamant that there’s enormous potential within the league, but he says changes need to be made in order to raise standards and improve its ailing image.

John Caulfield before the game Cork City manager John Caulfield. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

At a pre-match press conference at his club’s Bishopstown training ground ahead of tomorrow night’s visit of Shamrock Rovers to Turner’s Cross, Caulfield spoke passionately about a league he first became involved with when playing for Athlone Town in 1983.

“From the written media, the coverage of our league is phenomenal. Our TV coverage of the league is awful. We’re one of the only leagues in Europe that doesn’t have a regular game every week,” said Caulfield, whose side are currently 15 points clear at the top of the Premier Division thanks to their unbeaten start to the 2017 season.

“At the end of the day, something’s going to have to give very shortly. We need promoting for the league from the very top. We need investment. We need a couple of people employed, running our league, who are League of Ireland people, who are passionate about the league, who know what needs to be done. There’s a lot of people who know what needs to be done.

“Small investment and a couple of people employed to solely run our league through the FAI would make massive inroads. Once we set our standards for the top, this league will take off. But it has to happen. Otherwise we’ll just toddle along as we have done for the last 40 years.”

Caulfield also addressed the need to increase prize money and improve the matchday experience for supporters. This season’s Premier Division winners will again receive a sum of just €110,000. Several League of Ireland grounds also require significant upgrades.

“Money is the key,” he said. You have to invest more money. You have to have proper money for winning competitions, proper money to promote your league more and you have to have strict standards. Your standards have to be at the top, not the bottom.

John Caulfield interviewed by Tony O'Donoghue John Caulfield wants better TV coverage for the SSE Airtricity League. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

“You have to have proper structures in your club, where the stadiums are good enough. You can’t have away supporters going to grounds where they’re standing in awful conditions on a wet night and they can’t get a cup of coffee or can’t go to a toilet. There’s too much of that going around.

“But at the same time, we have seven or eight grounds in our league that are very good. But we must just push the standards higher. It’s just perception. We need to change the perception. Small money would change our league but we certainly need a couple of people employed through the FAI that are solely responsible for our league. There are people out there who can do a fantastic job.

“I’ve been in the league for 40 years. The League of Ireland is my passion. I represent all the people that go through the gates, no matter what club they support. They’re the people being slagged in the street by people who don’t go to our games. They’d prefer to be seen watching cross-channel teams, which is fine, but they’ll never attend our games.

“The League of Ireland community is quite big and we need to rally together. But certainly from the top we need a bit of investment and we need a couple of people employed who are solely promoting our league. I just feel it’s a simple solution and that in a number of years the perception would change. A proper TV deal would take off, more money will come into the league and things will lift.”

In Caulfield’s view, the League of Ireland can take inspiration from the recent successes of Connacht Rugby. Once regarded as the poor relation of the Irish provincial system, Connacht were crowned Guinness Pro12 champions last season.

“Their own association, 15 years ago, didn’t even want them. They actually told them ‘good luck’. It was incredible that their association didn’t even want them, so they decided that they weren’t going to take it lying down,” said Caulfield, who grew up in Roscommon.

Connacht team celebrate with the trophy lifted by captain John Muldoon Connacht defeated Leinster in the Guinness Pro12 final at Murrayfield last May. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“They just absolutely turned around the whole Connacht/Galway region and turned themselves into a phenomenal team. Now everyone has written about how great they are. That was just pure hard work and determination, getting money and sponsorship, and being determined to get things right and getting people in the right places to do things for them.

“Our league is just waiting to take off. I just wish more people would talk, promote our league, come out and stand up and be counted.”

Caulfield added: “We need the managers to stand up and be counted here. The managers out there who have won things, they need to stand up for the league if they’re passionate. It’s not about themselves, it’s about the league.

“If they’re passionate about the League of Ireland, stand up and be counted. Come out and be vocal. Don’t be afraid of anyone. If you’re honest, you’re telling the truth and there’s nothing to be afraid of. That’s my opinion. We need more of that.

“While I’m here I’m going to give it my best shot anyway.”

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