On Wednesday, 8th of June, prior to the start of Euro 2016, 2FM’s sports show, Game On, was broadcast live from the Aviva Stadium in front of an audience of a few hundred Irish fans. Joining the usual presenters, Hugh Cahill and Alan Cawley, were Eamon Dunphy, Paul McGrath, Ciarán Whelan, Ruby Walsh and Áine O’Gorman.
During the show, I had the opportunity to ask the panel a question concerning the League of Ireland contingent in the Irish squad for Euro 2016 and whether the FAI could do more to increase the number of potential future internationals coming from the League of Ireland. I pointed out that 8 of the 23 players named in the Euro 2016 squad have started their careers in the League of Ireland. Alan Cawley was in agreement that the FAI should be doing more for the league, citing the financial difficulties being experienced by Athlone and Waterford recently, giving examples of the poor facilities found at most grounds around the country, and complaining about the general lack of marketing of the league to get bigger crowds attending games.
Eamon Dunphy was next to respond to my question and give his general opinion on the league. His answer, like many in the media, was not to think of ideas or create solutions to improve the league in the hope of developing future internationals, but to instead complain about the poor standard on offer at present and to ask why anyone would bother going to a game when the Premiership and Champions League is on television. When it was thrown back to him that football fans in this country might actually enjoy going to live football matches to watch their local League of Ireland team playing, and in turn support the grassroots of the Irish game, he had no comeback.
A rather glaring contradiction of Dunphy’s is the fact that he has often championed the skills and ability of Wes Hoolahan in the Irish team, but does he know where Hoolahan came from? Does he know that Hoolahan played League of Ireland football up until he was 24 before leaving for the UK? At 24, most players would have given up on their dreams of making it in a more professional league or as an international, but Hoolahan is one example of many that have used the League of Ireland as a stepping stone to moving abroad and getting called up to the international team.
The question that must be asked of Eamon Dunphy is where does he see the future generations of Irish football coming from. The traditional route of young Irish footballers moving to England or Scotland at 14, 15, 16, etc. to continue their footballing education and hoping to make it as a professional is not a likely prospect in the near future. Competition in UK academies is ever-increasing as clubs nowadays have a global scouting network with massive finances allowing them to pick the best from around the world. To their credit, the FAI in recent years, with the help of Ruud Dokter, have created national leagues for U17 and U19 League of Ireland clubs, with an U15 league in the pipeline. Teams from areas such as Kerry, Cavan/Monaghan and Salthill Devon have entered teams, which is an encouraging start, as some of these areas wouldn’t have had a League of Ireland club in the past. Further, the FAI on their recent Snapchat account had photos of the 8 former League of Ireland players in their club jerseys. Roy Keane, in a press conference shortly after, spoke about what a nice touch the photos were and how he was always thankful and appreciative of his time with Cobh Ramblers. All of these are helpful ideas or gestures that can promote our league, but these should only be the start.
However, if a senior figure in the print, radio and television media such as Eamon Dunphy criticises the League like he has and gets plenty of attention for it, what hope have we got, as fans, when trying to sell, market and promote our national league to people that haven’t followed it before?
Image Credit: Youtube
Author: Ulick O’Sullivan