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Dublin: 19 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

Reasons to be cheerful about the League of Ireland despite the challenges

In his final column of the year, John O’Sullivan looks on the bright side.

The recent Ireland squad call-ups shows that the quality of the league is improving.
The recent Ireland squad call-ups shows that the quality of the league is improving.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WITH ONLY A couple of games and a couple of days left in the 2016 season, it’s that time when we look back on the season and into the future, assessing whether the glasses toasting our successes and drowning our sorrows are half-full or half-empty.

In many respects, it’s been a typically tough season; we can’t hide from the fact that attendances across the league are down.

We’ve had a club failing to fulfil a fixture after players refused to board a bus, citing unpaid expenses.

We’ve had pleas from a number of clubs, fearful of making it to the end of the season.

We’ve had revolt from clubs in response to funding from the FAI, we’ve had managers, players, officials and clubs fined.

We’ve had demonstrations in stands as boardroom decisions were questioned by supporters.

We had Brian Kerr and Fran Gavin rowing, we had more questions than answers.

But, there are reasons to be cheerful.

Even as a Cork City fan sick of watching Dundalk lift silverware, I’ve been swept up in their European adventures.

For the first time in a very long time, we have an Irish club proving on a consistent basis that there is quality in our league.

Most of you who read this column already have an interest in the League so you know the quality is and has always been there, but now people are sitting up and taking notice. To have a team reach the Europa League stages is a huge positive for profile, to have them compete and believe in their ability to progress is massive.

Their success is a double-edged sword; it has created an income for them that may allow them to dominate domestically for a number of years and there’s no guarantee that their success is having any kind of positive impact on other clubs.

But when the national team manager takes notice and calls up three Dundalk players to the Senior squad this year, the country takes notice.

If the country takes notice, we have an opportunity to grow the league once the will is there.

Alan Bennett scores a goal Dundalk were not the only team making waves in Europe. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Dundalk’s success isn’t a fluke, Cork City won through two rounds in Europe before being knocked out by a Genk side currently sitting on top of their Europa League Group.

City’s U19 side drew in 3000 fans to Turner’s Cross to watch them take on AS Roma in the Europa Youth League, a game the home side dominated for long periods. We have talent here and we’re starting to show it in a way the average football fan can appreciate.

Another knock-on of the Dundalk success is that it should drive investment in the league. We see Waterford United confirm that they are in takeover talks with an overseas individual.

No doubt seeing that a prudently run club can earn millions in returns on the European stage is going to attract new investors to the league.

While foreign investment in the league is neither a sliver bullet for the league as a whole nor a guarantee that an individual club will be better run, investment is there because someone sees the possibilities. We have endless possibilities.

While we don’t know how the league will be structured next season, we do know that it will start earlier and last longer which should decrease the amount of midweek games and help the cash flows at individual clubs.

We shouldn’t need a mid-season break next year, with no European Championship or World Cups to distract us, but there’s still time for the FAI to capitalise on the conveyor belt of talent now running from the league onto the National Senior team.

There will always be challenges, we’ll never be perfect.

I’m not sure we need to be, I’m not sure life would be more enjoyable if we were perfect.

The ups and downs are what stirs the emotions and the shared experiences that keep us coming back.

I might be naïve but I’ll be back next year, hopeful, cheerful, glass half full.

What Dundalk need to qualify and more Europa League talking points

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