More clubs from more counties needed

By Philip O’Rourke (@effect_phil)

Maybe it’s because I have experienced it first hand, after talking to those who supported clubs down the country that have gone out of existence, but it just feels as though the League of Ireland is missing something. More clubs from these so-called smaller counties should be competing in our league.

Counties like Kildare, Offaly, Laois, Kilkenny and Carlow have sports mad people living in towns in each of those counties. Throw in other counties like Meath, Tipperary, Roscommon, Mayo and Kerry and you could have another league set-up. The excuse of, ‘There isn’t enough interest’ doesn’t wash anymore. The huge response from fans to the ‘Forgotten Clubs’ series of these country teams has been overwhelming. I must admit, I would have thought it was because there was ‘not enough interest’ but I see that’s just a myth. There is plenty of interest but just nobody giving the product to the people. Whose fault is that?

The other ‘excuse’ that I often hear is that all these counties are all GAA dominated. Okay, so here is the issue I have with this. Yes, GAA is the number one sport in Ireland and rightly so, as Hurling and Gaelic Football are our national sports. But why can’t people enjoy more than one sport? It’s not a marriage. People can enjoy and support both the GAA championships and League of Ireland!

So no, I don’t buy that excuse. Sure, Dublin itself is thriving in GAA but we still manage to have five League of Ireland clubs representing the county. No, I’m not buying it. People can follow more than one sport.

Nobody pledges alliance to just one sport and dismisses everything else. Okay, you may have your favourite sport to watch, or play, but in general, people who like GAA tend to like ‘Soccer’ as well and vice versa. They are both similar, with GAA being a bit more physical, but with ‘soccer’ being more technical. And then you have hurling which is a mixture of both. You also have rugby, which is a popular sport on this island. Cricket, Darts, Athletics, Swimming, all can be enjoyed by one person. So the excuse of these counties being GAA dominated can also be dismissed.

The population of these counties stops them from getting attendances and therefore doesn’t make it viable to have a League of Ireland club in it is another argument put to me. Let me dismiss this with cold hard facts. Using the CSO statistics from 2011, (the population has risen in the last 8 years) I can show that these counties have more than enough people to support a League of Ireland club from their county. The population of Kildare for example in 2011 was 210,312. Now, they used to have a club in the League of Ireland but unfortunately it did not work out.

However, after doing some research on it I found it wasn’t from a lack of effort or support.

Let’s look at a ‘small county’ that hasn’t had a football club represent the county at League of Ireland level. Let’s take County Laois for example. In 2011, the population of Co Laois was 80,559, and with towns like Portlaoise and Portarlington there is plenty there to create a substantial League of Ireland club.

The most surprising counties not to be represented would be Kerry (145, 502) and Mayo (130,638). Again, they have huge followings when it comes to GAA so why not ‘soccer’. (I am only using the word soccer to stop confusion, I know its football). Clubs like Tralee Dynamos from Kerry and Castlebar Celtic could surely get the support needed if they entered teams into the League of Ireland!

As I said before, these are statistics from 2011 and the population of these areas has grown since then. I could throw more statistics in here from other counties, but I won’t bore you with the facts that show the excuse of ‘There isn’t enough people’ isn’t an excuse either.

The only other reason why these clubs and these counties don’t have a team representing them in the League of Ireland is down to financial reasons. That is a fair argument as we have found that the FAI have been holding most of the cards in that regard, as to where the money goes and to who it goes to. My idea would be to give it out fairly, to those clubs down the country and let them develop their infrastructure, their stadia, their marketing plans and their football clubs to be able to compete in the League of Ireland. We could be missing out on some potential talent from these areas, all because we keep coming up with these excuses. It’s time we stopped making excuses and start acting. I’m not saying it is going to happen overnight. Clubs aren’t going to miraculously sprout up all over the country and be well established straight away. But we must start somewhere.

The clubs that are there now are doing a great job, and that shows with the rise in attendances. It’s also a testament to the hard work the people of those clubs do in the background. But it is getting repetitive, playing the same clubs three or four times a season, going to the same stadia, the same amount of times a season takes away those ‘Away day’ memories that keep coming up when I ask those what their favourite memory following your club was, with an away day story usually the answer.

I think it is a shame that out of 27 counties in this country (I’m also counting Derry City) that only 12 counties are represented. I hope whoever comes in and takes over at the FAI has a serious look at the structure of the League of Ireland and helps promote ‘soccer’ clubs joining from these ‘smaller counties’. Ireland is more than Dublin. The League of Ireland should be for the whole of Ireland to enjoy.

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