independent

Wednesday 17 January 2018

A feast of football for domestic soccer fans

DANIEL GORMAN

THE HISTORY books will show that Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers and Derry City were the big winners of the 2010 League of Ireland season. But the real winners have been the fans.

Right from the very first kick-off back in early March up until the final game of the season, the supporters were treated to an enthralling, dramatic and action-packed nine months of football action.

Even before a ball had been kicked the drama began, with the now defunct Cork City FC's off-field activities resulting in them being refused a Premier Division license. The Leesiders folded and Cork City FORAS were born and they began life in the First Division.

Bray Wanderers - technically relegated twice the previous season - took the Munster side's place in the top flight.

St. Patrick's Athletic and Ian Foster's Dundalk led the early charge in the top flight, while Derry City immediately set about recovering from their recent plight.

But Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians soon started to pull away, which is much more than can be said for poor old Drogheda United and Bray.

In June, July and August Europe called, but it ended in tears for Irish sides when they were all mauled.

In the First Division Derry City and Monaghan United continued to fight tooth and nail - sooner or later though one would have to fail.

Eddie Gormley and Alan Mathews walked as their clubs struggled to survive, and that paved the way for Pat Devlin to spark the Seagulls' brilliant reprive.

At the end of the summer Shamrock Rovers looked to be cruising, while Drogheda United continued losing.

But then in October Rovers looked to have hit the wall, as losses to Bohs and Sporting Fingal saw them begin to fall.

But just as it looked like they had fallen at the final hurdle, Bohemians milk suddenly began to curdle.

A win over Drogheda United edged Rovers closer to the crown, while it sent the men from Hunky Dorys Park down.

A shock loss for the reigning champions in Galway, meant all eyes were on the league finale in Bray.

And after waiting for over 15 years, Rovers lifted the league trophy to ear-splitting cheers.

But who was gunning for glory in the second tier? Derry and Monaghan had been battling it out all year.

But a shock loss to Mervue United just a few short miles from Drom saw the Mons title hopes come undone.

The two then met at Gortakeegan, and a 1-0 defeat left Mons hearts bleeding.

But there was nothing but joy for the boys of the north, who put an end to a year of hurt.

But Bray and Monaghan's seasons weren't finished there, they had a play-off to decide; a twolegged affair.

The first leg was dull and finished in stalemate, but the return leg was a thriller even if both sides left it very late.

But the Mons were once again left devastated, when Bray's penalty shoot-out win left the Seagulls elated.

Sligo Rovers' lovely football failed to land them league glory, but their cup form was a different story.

Shamrock Rovers stood in their way as they looked for a double, but Paul Cook and his men were hoping to cause the Dubliners some trouble.

Thousands flooded the Aviva Stadium and dozens more watched on the telly, as Sligo Rovers found a new hero in the form of Ciarán Kelly.

All in all it was a cracking nine months; full of twists and turns and plenty of stunts.

Will 2010 be surpassed in 2011? If it is then that would be football heaven.

But how many fans will be around for next season? It's a well known fact that die-hard League of Ireland fans are a rarity.

Its not that there's a shortage of football fans in the Emerald Isle, there's plenty of them, but the majority of those would prefer to follow the fortunes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool from the comfort of a barstool at the weekend than to rough it out in Ferrycarrig Park or the RSC on a Friday night.

Many couldn't even name a single player from their local side, but should the topic pop up in conversation in the local boozer they'll be the first to chip in with the stereotypical opinions. 'Sure they're rubbish' and 'the league's a joke' seem to be the most popular.

They complain that the facilities aren't up to standard and that the players aren't worth watching and that's why they're never spotted cheering them on on a Friday night.

The facilities aren't up to scratch, there's no denying that. Just look at the Carlisle Grounds, where twice in the last two seasons the perimeter wall has collapsed under pressure from fans.

And the players aren't always a pleasure to watch. But that can be said about almost any league in the world.

For domestic soccer in this country to improve, investment is needed. Given the state of the current economic climate, the government aren't likely to be pumping funds into the league anytime soon.

The money needs to come from the fans. New fans, with new money.

But those fans that the clubs are looking for are the ones propping up the bar every weekend.

They say they'd go along to the games if the facilities and players improved. But for them to improve, clubs need money. So it's a cruel circle of life and there is no simple solution.

The F.A.I. are trying to instigate change though. It's believed that they are considering changing the Premier Division from a ten-team league to a 16team league.

That would mean each club would only face each other twice per season. The current system sees them face off four times a year and fans are becoming sick of the sight of the same old faces.

Also, by drafting in six new teams, it could boost the overall interest of the league. Cork City FORAS finished sixth in last season's First Division. That makes them one of the top 16 teams in the country but a sixth place finish in Division 1 is not likely to set Corkonians flooding to Turner's Cross in 2011.

However, were the F.A.I. to enforce the 16-team Premier Division, Cork would then become a top flight side and that would surely encourage plenty more fans to get out and cheer on the Leesiders.

But getting fans into the stadiums mightn't be clubs' biggest worry soon. The majority of headlines regarding Irish soccer in recent seasons have been in relation to off-field activities. Last season, TWO clubs were relegated from the Premier Division for off-field trouble. That's 20 per cent of the league.

Clubs looked to have tightened their belts and played everything by the book this season but in recent weeks and months it was revealed that both Galway United and Bohemians were in financial peril.

The duo looked to have weathered the storm though and are expected to take their place in next season's Premier Division, but are they just delaying the inevitable? And is it just a matter of time before the rest of the clubs follow suit?

Reports suggest that both Bohemians and Sporting Fingal will go from full-time to part-time football next season, surely a massive step back for domestic football?

In the days when foreign owners are sweeping into the Premier League and buying all before them, the finest our country has to offer are becoming part-time outfits.

When the Celtic Tiger was at its peak, Jason Byrne et al were able to command four-figure wages without a second thought. If the former Republic of Ireland international asked for that now he'd be laughed out of the office.

The money just simply isn't there for the players. The P.F.A.I. have announced recently that they have agreed to participate in a FIF Pro Tournament in Oslo, Norway in January. The tournament will feature out of contract players from Norway, Sweden and Finland and over 80 League of Ireland players have expressed an interest in playing.

Should even a small percentage of those players find clubs outside of Ireland, the quality of the league would suffer.

It certainly is interesting times ahead for the League of Ireland.

Shields looked to have cost his side their Premier Division status when he fired spectacularly into his own net in the 28th minute of extra-time. But then - after the small matter of the collapse of a perimeter wall - the Seagulls remarkably equalised three minutes into stoppage time to force the game into a penalty shoot-out and as fate would have it, Chris Shields scored the winning spot-kick as the Wicklow club ran out 7-6 winners.

2. Sligo Rovers v. Shamrock Rovers, FAI Cup Final, Sunday, November 14, Aviva Stadium: After a fascinating 120 minutes of football, these sides could not be separated and so a penalty shoot-out was required to decide who would be the 2010 FAI Cup champions. And Sligo Rovers goalkeeper Ciarán Kelly wrote himself into Irish football folklore when he saved four of the Tallaght side's penalties as the Bit O'Red ran out 2-0 winners thanks to successful spot-kicks from Eoin Doyle and Gary McCabe.

3. Thomas Stewart's goal at the Carlisle Grounds, Bray Wanderers v. Shamrock Rovers, Friday, October 29: Just 12 seconds into the second-half of this tie, Thomas Stewart struck the goal that went on to clinch the Premier Division for Shamrock Rovers. After falling behind to a Jake Kelly strike, Rovers levelled matters shortly before half-time through goal machine Gary Twigg. And then virtually straight from kick-off at the beginning of the second period, Dessie Baker tried to set up Twigg but the Scot opted to lay it on for Stewart who had come in off his wing and he opened up his body before expertly slotting the ball past Gregg.

4. Gary Twigg's goal, Shamrock Rovers v. Bohemians at Tallaght Stadium, Sunday, August 8: Champions elect Shamrock Rovers enjoyed a 3-0 win over their bitter rivals despite the first-half dismissal of Pat Flynn.

Dan Murray struck from close range in the firsthalf to give his side the lead and then in the second period, Twigg scored a beautiful goal to give his side breathing space. He collected a pass from Aidan Price and twisted and turned away from Ken Oman, before brilliantly firing the ball past goalkeeper Barry Murphy.

5. Jason Molloy's winner, Galway United v. Bohemians, Terryland Park, Friday, October 22: This was the moment that most people feel cost Bohemians their third title in as many seasons thanks to a wonderful late strike from Jason Molloy. The hosts took the lead courtesy of a Derek O'Brien penalty but the Dubliners soon bounced back thanks to a Paul Keegan header. A defensive mixup on the stroke of half-time restored the Tribesmen's lead but Jason Byrne ensured the sides went in level at the break when he converted a penalty. But then with full-time fast approaching, Seamus Conneely fed Molloy, who squeezed a delightful effort past Chris O'Connor much to the delight of all at Shamrock Rovers.

6. Jason Byrne's winner, Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers, Dalymount Park, Tuesday, October 5: Although Molloy's strike proved to the deciding factor in the destination of the Premier Division title, Jason Byrne's 21st-minute winner against Shamrock Rovers in October was expected to have a massive bearing on the eventual winners of the crown. Glen Cronin's chip into the area was headed down by Ken Oman and Byrne adjusted himself quickly to volley to the roof of Alan Mannus' net.

7. Derry City claim the First Division title, Gortakeegan, Saturday, October 30: Derry City lifted the First Division trophy at Gortakeegan at the end of October thanks to an 80th-minute Mark Farren goal. The striker stole in to convert Emmet Friars' cross ten minutes from time to earn his side promotion back to the Premier Division. The 28-year-old has since retired from football due to a brain tumour but at least he went out in style, securing his side the First Division trophy as a parting gift.

8. Shamrock Rovers v. Juventus, Tallaght Stadium, Thursday, July 29: Although the 0-2 scoreline was not an ideal result, the visit of Alessandro Del Piero et al to Tallaght Stadium for a competitive fixture was something to remember. A goal in each half from De Oliveira Amauri secured the Italians the win, and they won the return leg 1-0 when Del Piero came off the bench to rifle home an outstanding free-kick in the 76th minute.

9. The F.A.I. Cup final attendance: To see 35,000+ in attendance at the Aviva Stadium for November's F.A.I. Cup final must have warmed even the coldest of hearts. Both Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers were wonderfully represented by their fans and it was a great advertisement for the League of Ireland.

10. Pádraig Amond joining Pacos Ferreira, Tuesday, August 31: With all the negative press surrounding the League of Ireland in the modern era, it was nice to see a feel-good story popping up at the end of August when Carlow hotshot Pádraig Amond left Sligo Rovers for Portuguese club Pacos Ferreira. The striker netted 17 goals for the Bit O' Red before departing for Portugal. THE HISTORY books will show that Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers and Derry City were the big winners of the 2010 League of Ireland season. But the real winners have been the fans.

Right from the very first kick-off back in early March up until the final game of the season, the supporters were treated to an enthralling, dramatic and action-packed nine months of football action.

Even before a ball had been kicked the drama began, with the now defunct Cork City FC's off-field activities resulting in them being refused a Premier Division license. The Leesiders folded and Cork City FORAS were born and they began life in the First Division.

Bray Wanderers - technically relegated twice the previous season - took the Munster side's place in the top flight.

St. Patrick's Athletic and Ian Foster's Dundalk led the early charge in the top flight, while Derry City immediately set about recovering from their recent plight.

But Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians soon started to pull away, which is much more than can be said for poor old Drogheda United and Bray.

In June, July and August Europe called, but it ended in tears for Irish sides when they were all mauled.

In the First Division Derry City and Monaghan United continued to fight tooth and nail - sooner or later though one would have to fail.

Eddie Gormley and Alan Mathews walked as their clubs struggled to survive, and that paved the way for Pat Devlin to spark the Seagulls' brilliant reprive.

At the end of the summer Shamrock Rovers looked to be cruising, while Drogheda United continued losing.

But then in October Rovers looked to have hit the wall, as losses to Bohs and Sporting Fingal saw them begin to fall.

But just as it looked like they had fallen at the final hurdle, Bohemians milk suddenly began to curdle.

A win over Drogheda United edged Rovers closer to the crown, while it sent the men from Hunky Dorys Park down.

A shock loss for the reigning champions in Galway, meant all eyes were on the league finale in Bray.

And after waiting for over 15 years, Rovers lifted the league trophy to ear-splitting cheers.

But who was gunning for glory in the second tier? Derry and Monaghan had been battling it out all year.

But a shock loss to Mervue United just a few short miles from Drom saw the Mons title hopes come undone.

The two then met at Gortakeegan, and a 1-0 defeat left Mons hearts bleeding.

But there was nothing but joy for the boys of the north, who put an end to a year of hurt.

But Bray and Monaghan's seasons weren't finished there, they had a play-off to decide; a twolegged affair.

The first leg was dull and finished in stalemate, but the return leg was a thriller even if both sides left it very late.

But the Mons were once again left devastated, when Bray's penalty shoot-out win left the Seagulls elated.

Sligo Rovers' lovely football failed to land them league glory, but their cup form was a different story.

Shamrock Rovers stood in their way as they looked for a double, but Paul Cook and his men were hoping to cause the Dubliners some trouble.

Thousands flooded the Aviva Stadium and dozens more watched on the telly, as Sligo Rovers found a new hero in the form of Ciarán Kelly.

All in all it was a cracking nine months; full of twists and turns and plenty of stunts.

Will 2010 be surpassed in 2011? If it is then that would be football heaven.

But how many fans will be around for next season? It's a well known fact that die-hard League of Ireland fans are a rarity.

Its not that there's a shortage of football fans in the Emerald Isle, there's plenty of them, but the majority of those would prefer to follow the fortunes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool from the comfort of a barstool at the weekend than to rough it out in Ferrycarrig Park or the RSC on a Friday night.

Many couldn't even name a single player from their local side, but should the topic pop up in conversation in the local boozer they'll be the first to chip in with the stereotypical opinions. 'Sure they're rubbish' and 'the league's a joke' seem to be the most popular.

They complain that the facilities aren't up to standard and that the players aren't worth watching and that's why they're never spotted cheering them on on a Friday night.

The facilities aren't up to scratch, there's no denying that. Just look at the Carlisle Grounds, where twice in the last two seasons the perimeter wall has collapsed under pressure from fans.

And the players aren't always a pleasure to watch. But that can be said about almost any league in the world.

For domestic soccer in this country to improve, investment is needed. Given the state of the current economic climate, the government aren't likely to be pumping funds into the league anytime soon.

The money needs to come from the fans. New fans, with new money.

But those fans that the clubs are looking for are the ones propping up the bar every weekend.

They say they'd go along to the games if the facilities and players improved. But for them to improve, clubs need money. So it's a cruel circle of life and there is no simple solution.

The F.A.I. are trying to instigate change though. It's believed that they are considering changing the Premier Division from a ten-team league to a 16team league.

That would mean each club would only face each other twice per season. The current system sees them face off four times a year and fans are becoming sick of the sight of the same old faces.

Also, by drafting in six new teams, it could boost the overall interest of the league. Cork City FORAS finished sixth in last season's First Division. That makes them one of the top 16 teams in the country but a sixth place finish in Division 1 is not likely to set Corkonians flooding to Turner's Cross in 2011.

However, were the F.A.I. to enforce the 16-team Premier Division, Cork would then become a top flight side and that would surely encourage plenty more fans to get out and cheer on the Leesiders.

But getting fans into the stadiums mightn't be clubs' biggest worry soon. The majority of headlines regarding Irish soccer in recent seasons have been in relation to off-field activities. Last season, TWO clubs were relegated from the Premier Division for off-field trouble. That's 20 per cent of the league.

Clubs looked to have tightened their belts and played everything by the book this season but in recent weeks and months it was revealed that both Galway United and Bohemians were in financial peril.

The duo looked to have weathered the storm though and are expected to take their place in next season's Premier Division, but are they just delaying the inevitable? And is it just a matter of time before the rest of the clubs follow suit?

Reports suggest that both Bohemians and Sporting Fingal will go from full-time to part-time football next season, surely a massive step back for domestic football?

In the days when foreign owners are sweeping into the Premier League and buying all before them, the finest our country has to offer are becoming part-time outfits.

When the Celtic Tiger was at its peak, Jason Byrne et al were able to command four-figure wages without a second thought. If the former Republic of Ireland international asked for that now he'd be laughed out of the office.

The money just simply isn't there for the players. The P.F.A.I. have announced recently that they have agreed to participate in a FIF Pro Tournament in Oslo, Norway in January. The tournament will feature out of contract players from Norway, Sweden and Finland and over 80 League of Ireland players have expressed an interest in playing.

Should even a small percentage of those players find clubs outside of Ireland, the quality of the league would suffer.

It certainly is interesting times ahead for the League of Ireland.

Shields looked to have cost his side their Premier Division status when he fired spectacularly into his own net in the 28th minute of extra-time. But then - after the small matter of the collapse of a perimeter wall - the Seagulls remarkably equalised three minutes into stoppage time to force the game into a penalty shoot-out and as fate would have it, Chris Shields scored the winning spot-kick as the Wicklow club ran out 7-6 winners.

2. Sligo Rovers v. Shamrock Rovers, FAI Cup Final, Sunday, November 14, Aviva Stadium: After a fascinating 120 minutes of football, these sides could not be separated and so a penalty shoot-out was required to decide who would be the 2010 FAI Cup champions. And Sligo Rovers goalkeeper Ciarán Kelly wrote himself into Irish football folklore when he saved four of the Tallaght side's penalties as the Bit O'Red ran out 2-0 winners thanks to successful spot-kicks from Eoin Doyle and Gary McCabe.

3. Thomas Stewart's goal at the Carlisle Grounds, Bray Wanderers v. Shamrock Rovers, Friday, October 29: Just 12 seconds into the second-half of this tie, Thomas Stewart struck the goal that went on to clinch the Premier Division for Shamrock Rovers. After falling behind to a Jake Kelly strike, Rovers levelled matters shortly before half-time through goal machine Gary Twigg. And then virtually straight from kick-off at the beginning of the second period, Dessie Baker tried to set up Twigg but the Scot opted to lay it on for Stewart who had come in off his wing and he opened up his body before expertly slotting the ball past Gregg.

4. Gary Twigg's goal, Shamrock Rovers v. Bohemians at Tallaght Stadium, Sunday, August 8: Champions elect Shamrock Rovers enjoyed a 3-0 win over their bitter rivals despite the first-half dismissal of Pat Flynn.

Dan Murray struck from close range in the firsthalf to give his side the lead and then in the second period, Twigg scored a beautiful goal to give his side breathing space. He collected a pass from Aidan Price and twisted and turned away from Ken Oman, before brilliantly firing the ball past goalkeeper Barry Murphy.

5. Jason Molloy's winner, Galway United v. Bohemians, Terryland Park, Friday, October 22: This was the moment that most people feel cost Bohemians their third title in as many seasons thanks to a wonderful late strike from Jason Molloy. The hosts took the lead courtesy of a Derek O'Brien penalty but the Dubliners soon bounced back thanks to a Paul Keegan header. A defensive mixup on the stroke of half-time restored the Tribesmen's lead but Jason Byrne ensured the sides went in level at the break when he converted a penalty. But then with full-time fast approaching, Seamus Conneely fed Molloy, who squeezed a delightful effort past Chris O'Connor much to the delight of all at Shamrock Rovers.

6. Jason Byrne's winner, Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers, Dalymount Park, Tuesday, October 5: Although Molloy's strike proved to the deciding factor in the destination of the Premier Division title, Jason Byrne's 21st-minute winner against Shamrock Rovers in October was expected to have a massive bearing on the eventual winners of the crown. Glen Cronin's chip into the area was headed down by Ken Oman and Byrne adjusted himself quickly to volley to the roof of Alan Mannus' net.

7. Derry City claim the First Division title, Gortakeegan, Saturday, October 30: Derry City lifted the First Division trophy at Gortakeegan at the end of October thanks to an 80th-minute Mark Farren goal. The striker stole in to convert Emmet Friars' cross ten minutes from time to earn his side promotion back to the Premier Division. The 28-year-old has since retired from football due to a brain tumour but at least he went out in style, securing his side the First Division trophy as a parting gift.

8. Shamrock Rovers v. Juventus, Tallaght Stadium, Thursday, July 29: Although the 0-2 scoreline was not an ideal result, the visit of Alessandro Del Piero et al to Tallaght Stadium for a competitive fixture was something to remember. A goal in each half from De Oliveira Amauri secured the Italians the win, and they won the return leg 1-0 when Del Piero came off the bench to rifle home an outstanding free-kick in the 76th minute.

9. The F.A.I. Cup final attendance: To see 35,000+ in attendance at the Aviva Stadium for November's F.A.I. Cup final must have warmed even the coldest of hearts. Both Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers were wonderfully represented by their fans and it was a great advertisement for the League of Ireland.

10. Pádraig Amond joining Pacos Ferreira, Tuesday, August 31: With all the negative press surrounding the League of Ireland in the modern era, it was nice to see a feel-good story popping up at the end of August when Carlow hotshot Pádraig Amond left Sligo Rovers for Portuguese club Pacos Ferreira. The striker netted 17 goals for the Bit O' Red before departing for Portugal.

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