New Found Reputation Not Necessarily A Good Thing For League of Ireland
It’s not hard to see why clubs are now looking at the league which has supplied many current Ireland stars including Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Keith Fahey. The cost of attracting stars from the league is very little and has proven in the past the League of Ireland is a bargain hunters paradise as seen through the low cost moves of Seamus Coleman and James McClean.
The recent European success of Irish clubs and the performances of the aforementioned stars have put the league on the international stage although this is not exactly a great development as the league is constantly stripped of its stars. One only has to look at the recent shortlist for the 2011 League of Ireland player of the year. Golden boot winner Eamon Zayed (Persepolis), McClean (Sunderland) and Shamrock Rovers hero Pat Sullivan (Emigrated) were all nominated for the award and all have since left the league. The finest talent are simply been plucked from the league year after year. Indeed one could argue that League of Ireland clubs are simply a network of feeder teams who aim to bring players through and sell them on or in most cases the players are simply out of contract and free to move themselves.
This was particularly evident this year when players like Shane McFaul made his move to Finland. McFaul was snapped up by former Drogheda United star and current FC Haka manager Sami Ristila showing that the leagues stock is certainly rising on the continent and it is no longer just the English and Scottish clubs trying to attract Irish players.
Indeed the stock of our managers has also risen as can be seen by the recent departures of figures such as Pat Fenlon (Hibernian) and the much sought after Paul Cook who eventually settled for a move to his old club Accrington Stanley having turned down SPL side St Johnstone.
There is no doubt that the league can constantly reproduce itself and again this year the eyes of Europe and perhaps the wider world will keep a watchful eye over the new batch of stars that will emerge. But how is this league ever going to be deemed successful if its pure existence is based on the role of been a feeder club?
The crowds in the League of Ireland are extremely inconsistent and gone are the days when football yielded large crowds in Ireland. There is more to the league than what meets the eye ranging from the reasons as to why people don’t come to matches to why there is no significant investment. But unless the football authorities wake up and realise we do actually have a significant product with great potential then the league will forever be known as a source of bargain buys and nothing else. Sadly given the current state of affairs it looks like all involved are happy with the way things are at present. It seems perfectly acceptable to allow clubs to go to the wall and not to do anything to help them. The League of Ireland and the Football Association of Ireland need an urgent wake up call in order to save domestic football in Ireland.