Let’s build our game’s standards from the grassroots up

Many Irish were shocked by the Icelandic slaying of England in Euro 2016. Many of us felt further pride on account of our heroic performances in contrast to the sub standard English showing. Most of us found it downright hilarious. We love to see the old enemy suffer, don’t we? (Yet we worship their football clubs this doesn’t make sense to a League of Ireland fan-but that’s another story.) England was expectant. This was their finest squad since the 2006 World Cup in which the ‘golden generation’ were at their peak, yet failed to deliver the trophy which their fans believed that era deserved. They needed a scapegoat. Within minutes, Roy Hodgson was relieved of his duties. But was he to blame for everything? Alan Shearer drew attention to a startling truth. Some English supporters mistakenly assume that the Premiership’s status as the ‘best in the world’ should incite similar success in the national team. But in truth, the Premiership is overly reliant on foreign superstars for its glamour. With the exception of Leicester City and Fergie’s Fledglings in 1996, the title has been essentially paid for. It simply isn’t designed to produce home grown talent for the national side.

Us Irish like to have a little chuckle at this harsh truth, yet nobody seems to focus on the fact that we have the same problem. There may be opposite angles; the English league has more money than it can handle while our league barely makes enough to survive. But the result is the same. Realistically, we cannot expect to see a player earn a competitive international cap whilst labouring in the Airtricity League. Apparently, we have the best fans in the world and we have the infinite wisdom of experts like Eamon Dunphy at our disposal. They both have pleaded incessantly for the likes of Wes Hoolahan and James McClean to be included in the team when managers were hesitant. Yet they also insist that there is absolutely no talent in our league and nothing good can come from it. It’s a shame that our fans are slightly ignorant to these player’s backgrounds and our so-called experts won’t tell them any different.

It seems that our league has to be successful and alluring before the crowds will flood. The success of these players at the Euros was a golden opportunity to cash in. But after some photos in Irish club jerseys, a few words from Roy Keane and an appearance of James McClean at the Brandywell, that seemed to be that. The link between our league and the national team will be once again forgotten. As we know, ‘the powers that be’ around here seem somewhat ineffectual at promoting our league.

So what can we do? Learn from others? The English FA seem to have decided enough is enough and are preparing a whole new system to improve their game from grassroots level all the way to international level. The Belgians did likewise over a decade ago after their game went stale. They produced one or two half decent players, didn’t they? As for us, we will probably just continue to hope our relatives in England and elsewhere produce some gifted players and decide to play for us sometime in the future.

Robbie Ryan

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