Last season Bray Wanderers defeated Galway United 1-0 at Eamon Deacy Park. The Terryland ground has seen some exceptional footballing battles, this was not one of them.
Thoroughly uninspiring and lacklustre, even the weather seemed to sense it and respond accordingly, projecting a bitterly cold breeze and sporadic sprouts of rain normally unfamiliar to July – although not that unfamiliar when one travels that far west.
For 93 minutes the game lifelessly grumbled on, not so much moving through the gears as a constant battle to get it out of neutral. Chances were seldom and when they did present themselves drifted by unconsciously. In the 93rd minute, a concept that the crowd was on the verge of forgetting existed emerged, a goal was finally scored.
It remained true to the nature of the game in its form. In the 93rd minute, David Cassidy crossed a goal from the right side of the pitch towards an offside Chris Lyons. Sam Oji tried to intercept the ball and turned it into his own goal. The assistant flagged for offside, only to discuss the goal with the referee and it, controversially, stood.
The Galway faithful and its players began revolving to form a combined storm of protestation as the final whistle rang out. Meanwhile in the corner, a tiny group of travelling supporters, no more than 12, were jumping and signing delirious at their sides victory. It was as if their side’s difficulties of the last few years were worth it for that one, inexplicably brief blot of joy.
There was something humbly enduring about the small supporter’s passion, and indeed it is a part of one of many qualities that make the league what it is. 2016 is set to be a fascinating campaign.
The increase to €475,500 prize money has to be welcomed while the focus on the FAI merger will be at an all-time high as the deal enters its final year.
The downside to this prize money increase is that it has the potential to be destined for short-term expenditure and once again facilities and grassroots will not benefit.
A quality exasperatingly unique to the league is previews that don’t actually analyse any football. The pre-season content is flooded with discussions about the league itself, its viability, facilities, support-base and finances.
Any over-riding sense of excitement at watching Dundalk’s flowing football is overridden with fears of where the league is actually going.
Every year a question that needs to be asked of any football administrator or organiser is this, is the league currently under performing? If so, are you going everything in your power to resolve this?
This association is currently 41st in UEFA’s ranking of club competitions. This position means it is below Macedonia (population 2.1 million), Iceland (population 323,002) and Moldova (3.559 million). Northern Ireland are just five places behind. They are currently half way through their strategic plan 2013/2018 and are in the best position yet to overtake the southern league.
A first step towards proper improvement would be a season of competitiveness and improving gates, one without controversy about players going unpaid, or financial peril looming for one of the leagues staple clubs. But beyond that, a wider approach will have to develop.
Last Thursday, at The Blizzard’s Q and A event in Dublin, Philippe Auclair spoke about football’s administrative and leadership issues as a whole and whether it was a case of top-to-bottom improvement or vice-versa.
He spoke about the associations and federations, below the executive levels of UEFA or FIFA, being “rotten to the core” and, addressing the audience, said “we have to look at our associations, including your association here, and my own.”
“It’s not a matter of cutting off the top of the dandelion or cutting the bottom, we must flatten the entire field.”
This writer does not have the capability or information to muster up a definite, strategic and viable plan and emerge as the astute Pied Piper leading this small but dedicated fan base to the footballing promised land, but the one absolute, invaluable but under appreciated fact of the matter is, that it will take fans appetite to orchestrate any true change.
That small section of Bray fans, the admirably dedicated but small section of the media striving to provide quality coverage of the league, that gathering of fans listening to Auclair, collectively looking at those in responsibility and working towards a viable solution. A self-infused, communal push to progressive, achievable results. Indubitable desire to make it #thegreatestleagueintheworld.
Regardless of whether or not that is achievable (exclusive, it’s not) a concrete push for real change is the only mechanism to power through the bureaucratic-infused apathy towards the league currently. If anything, the obvious desire to be seen as a leader pandering to the people is an avenue to be exploited.
This could be a defining year for the league, one way or another.