A week on and Dundalk are out of the Champions League while Shamrock Rovers are out of the Europa League. Doom and gloom? NO WAY!
These two clubs are improving year on year. They have raised the bar for League of Ireland football. Dundalk were beaten by a superior side in Qarabag, a club with far more economic clout and most importantly, better players. Dundalk have exited the Champions League where they should have.
The important thing is, I believe, that they were competitive with a team that were superior to them. They played like a team that believed in themselves and the way they play. They are really up against it in the next round, and realistically they should depart the European scene.
This is not important. What is important is that the team’s performance is improving every year, that means the standard in our League is also improving.
I felt the same watching Shamrock Rovers. The days are gone when we can look down on a league like Cyprus. Back in the day, if you got a team from Cyprus you thought you were into the next round. This is not now the case. These so-called “lower” leagues have grown and developed over the years and are now at the same level or higher than our teams. This match was 50/50 and I think either team could have won. The most important thing is that our league needs to improve.
This really brings me to the nub of the matter, all of these “foreign” leagues have been helped by their own associations. In our league all our clubs are left to their own devices. 5 years ago Dundalk was on the verge of going under. Only for local businessmen Andy Connolly and Paul Brown stepped in, the club was dead and gone.
Rovers have also had a long time in the wilderness until they found their home in Tallaght. They have a beautiful stadium and a wonderful team but have had huge backing from South Dublin County Council. I don’t believe Dundalk have received any help from the council in Louth. Let’s face it, Dundalk might be the best team in the country but they must have the worst stadium in the country. The work the club do in the community, the love the people of Dundalk feel for their club is huge. It must be the only town in the country where you see more kids with Dundalk tops rather than the English Premiership tops, this is all done locally.
This brings me to my ‘Bete Noir’ – the FAI, John Delaney and all of the executives of whatever they were called in times gone by. Their job is to promote our league, to seek government funding for our teams, and to develop our infrastructure. I have been banging on about this for 20 years, all to no avail. I don’t believe the Government department responsible for sport even know there is a League of Ireland.
I have just read about John Delaney’s “Golden Handcuffs”, where it is alleged that he doubled his salary to close to €1m a year and nobody knew, it didn’t appear in the accounts…. Same Old, same Old. Maybe if the old fashioned handcuffs were used for the guilty parties, whoever they are, we might get a change in culture, not a change in the status quo!