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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Managers moaning is exactly what the League of Ireland needs

In his weekly column, John O’Sullivan makes the case for more off-the-field drama.

IF AN EMPTY crisp packet blew in front of the Shed End at Turner’s Cross a penalty would be awarded.”

The above line was delivered by Stephen Kenny in 2016 and a year on he’s back questioning Cork City penalties.

John Caulfield has “hit back”, he was shocked and appalled on behalf of referees – we know he’s always been a staunch supporter of match officials, especially in his playing days.

Kenny countered Caulfield’s retort was a personal attack.

There’s outrage everywhere. Dundalk fans rush to support Kenny on social media, Cork City fans open Twitter to claim Kenny is rattled and champion Caulfield. Of course, no  one takes it that seriously and we’re having fun. We’re talking about the league outside of the 90 minutes of football.

More of this please, it’s fantastic.

John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny Stephen Kenny and John Caulfield's 'debate' about penalties has made the league more interesting. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Do you remember Jonathan Gabay? The consultant that the FAI brought in to tell us the league ‘isn’t bleak, but cool’?

The presentation he gave on his findings to a lukewarm response from the football family and the media and has hardly been mentioned since.

During Gabay’s presentation, he pointed to the benefit that outspoken managers could bring to the league. At the time, the recommendation only added to the opinion that his research was limited, the FAI handing Roddy Collins a €1500 fine and six-game ban for calling the league ‘a shambles’ only came a few months previously.

But he had a point. If you look at the English Premier League, so much of the hype and noise that keep people talking about the game globally are the managers, their personalities and their spats. It’s noise and it’s unimportant, but it adds to the drama and the interest in the game.

We’re actually lucky enough in that regard, when the muzzles are off we have genuinely entertaining characters managing many of our clubs. Stephen Kenny, John Caulfield, Harry Kenny, Stephen Bradley, Ollie Horgan and others are interesting and entertaining, they get people talking – even if it’s to disagree.

When Kenny Shiels first arrived in the league he was a breath of fresh air but supporters across the league expected that he’d soon go the way of other imports and end up trading platitudes as the participation agreement and the possibility of fines would grind him down.

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Luckily, this hasn’t happened.

Brian Kerr Brian Kerr is exactly the type of colourful character the league would benefit from. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In a small league in a small country, the weight of personality is vital. We need individuals to rally around as much as teams. We need people who speak for us, who say what we’re all thinking and who are free to do so.

Brian Kerr’s no nonsense approach and droll delivery is the perfect foil to his immense knowledge and he’s become one of our best loved commentators on league matters on and off the pitch.

Were he still managing, he wouldn’t have the freedom to express himself and we would all be the poorer for it. The thing is, Kerr’s comments don’t impact on the perception of the league, which would be the charge laid down were the FAI in a position to fine him. If anything, what supporters of the league see and hear when they hear passionate people talking is their passion.

Kerr is popular across supporters of all clubs, not because he criticises the FAI but because he cares enough about the league to use his platform to share his passion for it.

When I worked in the league I would have to scour website pieces, scour the programme draft articles and sit in on press days with self-protection in mind, just to keep an eye on anything that could be viewed as ‘offensive’ to the FAI and result in a fine for the club.

Over my time in the league, clubs were fined for comments by officials, players, managers and in programmes and online. It’s beyond doubt that the social media accounts of clubs, officials and players are monitored by the FAI.

If more attention was paid to the content of criticism than fining those criticising, and that attention was coupled with action to improve, the amount of criticism would drop. But the choice seems to be to shoot the messenger.

The league needs personalities, we don’t get to know our managers and players well enough. They should be front and centre and free to speak openly and honestly, even when they’re wrong – as Stephen Kenny is wrong about the penalties.

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