Kieran Burke is a professional studio sports Broadcaster for one of Ireland’s leading independent bookmakers, and was the founder of Between The Stripes and also worked on a freelance basis for the SSE Airtricity League website among others and here is his thoughts on the League of Ireland and European Football.
Last night’s result in the Tallaght Stadium has naturally brought about plenty of discussion on just exactly where we are as a league in terms of Europe and our hopes of making Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk’s previous euro runs regular occurances as opposed to once off dreams.
There seems to be a general consensus that for the league to take that next step an influx of quality foreign players is required and when you look at the makeup of Slovan Bratislava, Qarabag, Riga and Apollon Limassol’s squads you most certainly can’t disagree with such a judgment that has been aired publically by Conan Byrne recently on the GLITW podcast.
However, such a plan for clubs like Dundalk and Rovers is much easier said than done. Qarabag for example had players on salary’s of €500,000 while Dundalk are breaking new ground in the League of Ireland (at least post Celtic Tiger anyway) with figures a fifth of that number.
At the end of the day everything comes back to finances. The League of Ireland is a league with no TV deal, no transparency in terms of direct sponsorship and above all a league where the prize money isn’t worth talking about.
At the moment we have an association that are reportedly paying back a sports brand €100,000 a month over a botched sponsorship deal while the Champions of Ireland will receive just €110,000 in prize money (before fines and don’t forget about that entry fee and all the other overheads).
While it’s encouraging to see discussion and debate taking place on how the likes of Dundalk and Rovers can make the European dream a reality, it should be remembered we’ve got clubs like Finn Harps who have been fighting tooth and nail to get their new stadium off the ground for well over a decade now. We have facilities in desperate need of renovation that now face lengthy delays due to the government’s on-going stand off with the FAI and above all else we’ve got clubs in the First Division simply surving from week to week with minimal gate receipts and little or no media coverage.
Of course the rumours of an All-Island league or a breakaway League of Ireland will continue to excite long suffering supporters of the domestic game in Ireland but in its current guise I’m sorry to say that any success in Europe from our clubs is in spite of the governing body not thanks to them as Fran Gavin once tried to portray with his “we created the atmosphere” comments. As long as the FAI are “running” the league as nothing more than a box ticking exercise night’s like Bate Borisov in 2016 and Partisan Belgrade in 2011 are nothing more than a pipedream.