As a healthy 55,000+ people packed into the Aviva on Friday to watch Ireland’s crunch game against Moldova. Less than 6,000 made it to League of Ireland games the next day.
Normally, when you ask a non-league of Ireland football fan would they be interested in going to a game the response is somewhere along the lines of “it’s Sh*te football, why would I waste my time”.
Yet how many of this current Irish National team have cut their teeth in the league. So if they can adore them in the famous green why not in their Irish club colours? Is there a snobbery about playing outside the league? Of course, you can earn a heck lot of money playing outside the league as well and far better security in having your wages guaranteed each week.
However, what makes League players so under-rated? Well let us take the case of the curious case of Brian Lenihan. After clocking up 27 appearances for Cork City, in August 2014 he made a fabulous move to Hull City in England for a rumored £200,000 transfer fee. Three months later when a provisional Irish team is announced, Brian gets a call up! Surely, he could not have improved dramatically in three months that makes him good enough for a national call up?
So can League players cut it? Well it is over 30 years since a league player has played for Ireland in a competitive game, Pat Byrne (Shamrock Rovers) v Denmark 13th November 1985. Many years later whilst Ireland are on a friendly tour in the states in 2007, then a Cork City player, Joe Gamble makes a substitute appearance against Ecuador and starts against Bolivia thus ending the last flurry of a league player to be capped for the national side. Please don’t get me wrong I am not saying coaches and training facilities are even equal to teams outside of the league, especially in the upper echelons of English Football.
Surely, there cannot be a cataclysmic gulf in players that they are considered for friendly matches? Friday’s game against Moldova saw Sean Maguire make his first Senior Cap, a person who is still currently the top scorer in the league. Sean has had a fantastic season this year for both Cork and more recently Preston North End. However, should he have had an international opportunity before now?
Preston coaches spoke highly of ability and skill level of recent Irish signings Kevin O’Connor and Maguire, throwing the latter into the starting line up soon after signing. So the gap must not be that gigantic. I suppose the old saying still holds firm “if you are good enough, you ARE good enough”. However, imagine how much a call up would do for the leagues reputation? Not a token call up either!
When Glen Crowe and Jason Byrne returned to the clubs after international call ups it must have filled their fans and coaches with such pride to say they have an Irish international within their ranks. Let us leave the leagues poor marketing, deplorable facilities on and off the pitch and lack of blanket coverage that happens in England a side. Rather just player’s abilities. Which leads to the next obvious question. Who in the league currently would be good enough? Maybe no one currently, but for a player to know that playing within the league would not hold back their chances of an International call up, I would settle for that.