Regular readers of this column will know that as well as supporting Bray Wanderers in the League of Ireland, I’m also a fan of Rochdale AFC in League One of the EFL. I receive a copy of the programme from each of their home games [because I contribute a column to it] and I was looking through the programme from last weekend’s fixture against Southend United when I noticed a piece about Ryan Delaney, who has recently signed for Rochdale.
The left-sided central defender has signed until 2020, and although he officially came from Championship side Burton Albion, he was at Cork last year and had started his career with Wexford Youths. The signing was the subject of debate on many League of Ireland forums when it was announced earlier this month. Reaction ranged from the ill-informed and incredulous [‘Rochdale are crap, why would he go there?’] to the more realistic [‘That’s a great move for Ryan. Good luck to him. Rochdale play football the right way.’]
Reading through these comments and reactions got me thinking. Just how good is the League of Ireland – in terms of the standard of football – compared to the lower leagues in England? At different times over the years my own opinion has seen the SSE Airtricity League [Premier Division] variously slot in at a high of Championship standard to a low of Football Conference standard. At present, and I feel I’m being generous, I’d say the league as a whole is about the level of League Two, although individual teams like Cork and Dundalk could probably hold their own at League One level.
I remember about 16 or 17 years ago when QPR – then a struggling Championship side heading for relegation to the third tier – made an approach for two Bray players [Jason Byrne and I think either Jody Lynch or Philip Keogh]. I don’t know what the offer was or what the terms were for the players, but it was turned down. One of the players was asked about it afterwards and said something like ‘’Why would we move? Bray are better than QPR”. He wasn’t joking, and he was right. At the time Bray were riding high in the League and had won the 1999 FAI Cup and got into Europe, as well as hosting Newcastle United, Glasgow Celtic and Blackburn Rovers in friendlies. The standard over here was quite high at the time. A QPR side sinking like the stone didn’t hold much appeal.
Back to the Rochdale programme for the Southend game. It’s a rarity in that it’s a programme for a game that never was. The match was called off shortly before kick-off due to a water-logged pitch, with the Southend team and fans having already travelled. The programme will be sold at the rearranged game. I think they sent out my copy from the office by mistake.
The programme is a memorable one for my collection for another reason. My column was about Graham Coughlan, a former Bray Wanderers player who had a long and distinguished career in England and Scotland and who was the Southend first-team coach until he was removed during the week of the [abandoned!] match along with Phil Brown and the rest of his management and coaching staff. I had to do a last-minute edit to reflect Graham’s changed status, as did the other programme contributors in their references to Phil Brown. Such is the danger of writing to deadlines and being overtaken by events!
As for QPR, well they are a still a struggling Championship side, despite having made the Premier League between 2011 and 2013. On Saturday last, as Ryan Delaney was lining up for Dale against Millwall [and seen later that night on FA Cup Match Of The Day] in a superb 2-2 away draw in the FA Cup 4th Round, QPR were slumping to a Championship defeat to Bristol City.
So Ryan and Dale have a home replay on Tuesday 06 February which gives them the chance to progress to the FA Cup 5th round. I’m off to pen my column for said game. It’s going to be about Eamon Dunphy, Millwall legend that he is.