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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 21 October, 2019
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'It’s unique, small, noisy, bonkers, heart-breaking and joyous in equal measure'

In his final column of the season, John O’Sullivan outlines the reasons to be thankful for the League of Ireland.

The Dalymount Park chip van ladies celebrate with Bohs' players.
The Dalymount Park chip van ladies celebrate with Bohs' players.
Image: Twitter/SSE Airtricity League

LADS, YOU’D HARDLY know it was Lady Gaga.

Last weekend, with Cork City away in Derry, my wife and I took a rare trip to the cinema to see ‘A Star is Born’.

Believe the hype, it’s very good.

But as I sat in the dark in a comfy chair, eating junk food and being thoroughly entertained by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, it suddenly struck me that you could very easily make cinema trips like this a habit – instead of football matches.

Over the next four months, we’ll all have the opportunity to fill our Friday and Saturday nights with pastimes very different to the League of Ireland. You could get comfy, form a new habit and make excuses about coming back next February.

So I thought I’d finish my columns for the season with a reminder that we have reasons to be cheerful and unique and entertaining stories of our own to rival anything you’ll see on the big screen.

Do comment below with the hundreds of things I’ll forget to mention, but it’s important we remind ourselves that the LOI is the #GreatestLeagueInTheWorld, tongue-in-cheek or not. Be warned, Bohs are going to be mentioned a lot in my favourite memories of the season.

There’s an easy place to start. Right back at the start of the season, Paddy Kavanagh scores a late winner against Shamrock Rovers – Bohs having come from a goal down – and he runs to the chip van in the corner of the ground where we saw the ladies working there joining in the celebrating.

The video clip went viral. Where else would you get that? What other leagues have that sense of togetherness?

There were wild stories. In the end, nothing has come of the Saudi takeover of Galway United but for a while there it was all we could talk about. The dreams of the money that would be invested and Galway United reaching the Champions League group stage seemed to be everywhere. We got excited and then it went very quiet.

While players slide into dirty tackles on the pitch and we slide into DMs on social media abusing the tackler, there are still times when LoI brings us all together. The FAI talk about a ‘football family’, and occasionally this rings true.

This year we lost Oran Tully, who loved football at every level. Whether Skerries Town, Chelsea, Ireland or Bohs, we watched him on YouTube. How the League of Ireland
family and media reacted to his passing was heartfelt and genuine; we realised it could have been any one of us simply because he was one of us.

Oran Tully Oran Tully and James McClean at the Carlisle Grounds. Source: Instagram

From one young man to another, one of my stories of the season is Gavin Bazunu, a sixteen-year-old keeping a string of clean sheets in the League of Ireland, saving penalties at Turner’s Cross before going on to perform brilliantly in the Europa league.

Then rounding it off with a record transfer to Manchester City. What a whirlwind and no doubt soon to be another in the growing list of players who cut their teeth in the League of Ireland before playing for the senior international side.

The LOI is the future of the Irish national side, like it or not, and it’s time we embraced that.

Cobh Ramblers made the EA Sports Cup final and while their loss to Derry showed the difference in levels between the divisions, their path to the final, including a semi-final win over Dundalk was a great story, particularly for their manager Stephen Henderson, one of the most popular and effusive supporters of the league.

Dundalk play great football and are worthy champions, but for all the plaudits that Stephen Kenny earns, if anything points to his quality as a manager it’s the evolution of Chris Shields as a player.

He’s my Player of the Season by a distance and hopefully that gets recognised in all the end of year awards. Of course, I hope he has an absolute nightmare in the FAI Cup final, he’s due one bad game this season, surely?

Chris Shields celebrates in the dressing room Dundalk midfielder Chris Shields with the league trophy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

We started building again. Look, we know that the facilities need work but Drogheda United announced plans to build a new Stadium, Peake 6 stated that Oriel Park will be revamped, Finn Harps recommenced work on their stadium while the Comer brothers announced a new training facility for Galway United FC.

All this is hugely positive, but the icing on the cake are the plans for Dalymount where Bohs and Shels will ground share. We opened with Bohs, we’ll close with them. That Bob Marley shirt is a stroke of genius, whether you think it’s ugly or beautiful, you have to admit it’s got people talking about Bohs, the league and Bob Marley. A white jersey which has the world talking because it’s that little bit different and a club were willing to take a chance.

It’s something different, and so are we. We tend to worry too much about how we ‘compete’ with the English Premier League, La Liga or even how we compete with rugby and the GAA. But think about it, if you’re still reading it’s likely you love the league despite all the faults and all the competition.

It’s because it’s unique, small, noisy, bonkers, heart-breaking and joyous in equal measure. It’s a hotbed of passionate, creative people who get some things wrong but a lot of stuff right.

It’s ours — we might not be here for a long time, but we’re here for a great time.

- Originally published at 18.10

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