Thomas Tormey throws his eyes and ears over how the media covered the big stories in the League of Ireland in the last week.
Stuey Byrne was getting all misty-eyed about his Shelbourne days in the Mirror on Friday, fondly recalling big Dublin derbies at the Tolka Park of times past.
There’s no doubt that there were many great nights there, greatly enhanced by the positioning of the away support in the Riverside Stand. Maybe I’m getting a bit misty-eyed myself but, like Stuey, I don’t think we get the same atmosphere these days as we did at those matches; when the ‘travelling’ fans, usually the majority of the crowd, were positioned along a whole side line, under a roof. The main thrust of Stuey’s column was a reflection on Shels’ abortive move to Tolka Valley Park (circa 2002) and how it may have benefitted both the club and the game within Dublin’s city boundary.
The plan included proposals to merge with various schoolboy clubs in that part of the Northside. While the move may have strengthened Shelbourne as a club overall, its by no means certain that it would have made the Reds’ recent history “altogether less painful”. Shels did run reasonably successful youth teams throughout the noughties.
Anthony Stokes and James Chambers numbered amongst the graduates of this programme. Its hard to see how a move into the heartland of Bohs support would have solved the fundamental problems of a small fan and commercial base and spending more money than they had.
One of the most irritating aspects of the League of Ireland scene has to be the tendency of some to rail against anything and everything the FAI do, regardless of what the association are trying to achieve. Dermot Keely provided an excellent example of this in his column in last Wednesday’s Sun. Dermo described the decision to axe replays in the most recent round of the Cup as being “an FAI solution to an FAI problem”. This criticism was supported by reference to the fact that the fixture congestion the measure was supposed to prevent was unlikely to occur this season, since all our teams are out of Europe.
Daniel McDonnell spoke favourably about Keely’s column on the LOI Weekly podcast without going as far as supporting Dermo’s viewpoint. Both lads were being a bit unfair. The idea that matches in the first two rounds of the FAI Cup to feature LOI teams would be decided on the day/night was part of a package of measures to improve the competition. These included moving the ‘first’ round to August, after the non-league clubs’ summer break, and thus spreading the tournament over three months instead of five. This has obvious implications for the potential for fixture problems, regardless of European involvement. I would also suggest that this move has succeeded in its first aim, making the games between league and non-league teams more competitive.
The excellent form of Leinster Senior League clubs in the cup prompted an interesting discussion between former Shels manager Kevin Doherty and Oisin Langan on Newstalk’s LOI Podcast. LSL sides defeated teams from leagues above them (Wexford), equivalent to them (Everton, Cork not Merseyside), and below them (Sheriff, Dublin not Moldova). Both Doherty and Langan were rightly complimentary about the standard of Intermediate level football in Dublin. Doherty described how “his eyes had been opened to it” by his recent involvement with St Mochta’s.
A revelation which I have to admit would have annoyed me, were I a Shelbourne supporter. Also, it is most definitely not true to say, as Langan did, that the recent development of youth teams/competitions in the LOI has been inspired by the larger LSL clubs. Rather, it has been influenced by a desire to bring Ireland into line with international norms. The Leinster Senior provides many examples which highlight the lack of cohesion between youth and adult football in this country. Furthermore, League of Ireland clubs need to provide some sort of ‘show’ from the first team on the pitch. They can’t just mirror the structure of, say, Cherry Orchard or GAA clubs.
Dermot Keely: Scrapping replays for the first two rounds of the Cup was an FAI solution to an FAI problem https://t.co/enPaSaFr0A— Neil O'Riordan (@noriordan) August 16, 2017
In this context, it is worth highlighting some concerns about the underage leagues expressed in the podcasts this week. Bohs midfielder and July Player of the Month Faud Sule, speaking to Jamie Moore of 98 FM, noted the difficulty created by the gap between the under-19s and first-team football in the LOI. The professional game in this country needs to take care that it is not discarding players who are not ready by the time they are 20.
Limerick finally not at a numerical disadvantage in midfield. Irrelevant though - Fuad Sule's doing the work of two players.— Andrew Cunneen (@Cunneen92) August 19, 2017
Also, newly appointed Longford manager Neale Fenn spoke to LOI Weekly about the difficulty of fielding a competitive team of local players in these competitions. An interesting point, although either Johnny Ward or Dan McDonnell might have pressed Fenn on why the team needed to be ‘local’ rather than ‘regional’ and/or why he would need to strengthen with players from Dublin rather than, say, Cavan, Leitrim and Roscommon? The FAI Cup form of Dublin-based LSL teams notwithstanding.