The LOI has everything the average football fan wants, but can it compete with Carlton Cole?

Richie-TowellMy most recent article on Back Page Football focused on the image problem that besets the League of Ireland and highlighted a few easily-fixable problems that could remedy the problem.

One issue I didn’t bring up – and perhaps the most important – was the issue of how the League markets itself on the field.

While I stand behind my judgement that were anyone to attend a League of Ireland game, the action on the pitch would speak for itself, on the rare opportunity that teams have appeared in televised games, they haven’t really done themselves justice.

RTE’s first two televised games of the season – Derry City away at Shamrock Rovers and at home to Cork City – were underwhelming and yielded just three goals as Roddy Collins, box-office on camera if not quite on the pitch, began his brief reign in charge of the Candystripes.

As RTE fulfilled their quota of games at the start of the season and gave way to the more enthusiastic and supportive Setanta Sports during GAA season, the trend continued that televsised League of Ireland games – whether due to poor selection or bad luck – were far from box-office events.

That all changed two weeks ago, when Dundalk travelled to St Patrick’s Athletic and served up arguably the game of the season. Having gone down to a second-minute goal, the league leaders laid siege to the home side’s goal and ultimately emerged without a point, offering Cork City a route back into the title race.

The game exhibited everything that’s good about League of Ireland football. Liam Buckley and Stephen Kenny’s sides were unabashedly, unashamedly attacking, last year’s champions putting up a firm defence to this year’s champions elect in a manner that would excite any football fan the world over.

Pats  striker Christy Fagan showed why Buckley turned down five-figure bids from Norwegian side Brann Bergen and former Sligo manager Paul Cook’s Chesterfield with a composed early finish, while Ireland international Keith Fahey justified the interest of Premier League sides with a masterful performance in an advanced midfield role.

On the Dundalk side, the league’s most accomplished player, Richie Towell, ran the show in an unfamiliar deep role, while team mates Andy Boyle and Pat Hoban showed the form that will have Stephen Kenny sweating over whether he can keep prying eyes off them during the winter transfer window.

The only pity is that the game was broadcast on a cable channel only some Irish people have access to – and nobody outside of Ireland – so a classic encounter of arguably the two best sides in the country was restricted only to those with enough ken and no other plans to tune into.

With the GAA season all but over and their quota to fill, RTE have turned their attention back to the League of Ireland, and they celebrated their return to live football with the first scoreless draw of the season with Dundalk’s visit to Tallaght and Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup semi-final.

Sod’s law dictates that any major televised fixture in Ireland will turn out to be a damp squib, and so it turned out with only Karl Sheppard’s dubiously-disallowed headed goal the only clear talking point of the night.

Sheppard would go on to become the difference between the two teams, grabbing two late goals as a substitute in Oriel Park to send the Dublin club into a semi-final meeting with one of St Patrick’s Athletic, Finn Harps or Derry City.

The Hoops and the Lilywhites are set to meet for the third time in eight days on Saturday night in the EA Sports Cup final on Setanta Sports. A large travelling support is expected from Dublin, and with the tie guaranteed to be settled on the day, there is guaranteed to be at least some drama in the wee county.

Whether any action in a league cup final will be enough to convert floating fans remains to be seen, but a winner-takes-all tie between two of the proudest clubs on this island should at least provide some measure of drama.

Inevitably, one of the biggest fixtures on the Irish football calendar will have to compete with a major clash in the English Premier league – Liverpool facing West Ham – and therein lies the challenge facing domestic football: can our clubs compete with the attraction of Carlton Cole and Mark Noble?

Saturday evening, as ever, will be the acid test.

The Author

Dave Donnelly

Dave Donnelly is a freelance journalist based in Dublin, Ireland. He mainly writes about music for the Irish Sun, but as lover of all things football, he writes about all things League of Ireland on his blog, the Second Post.

2 thoughts on “The LOI has everything the average football fan wants, but can it compete with Carlton Cole?

  1. I didn’t see the game in question, as I don’t have Setanta Sports! But I did see the Bray V Pats game on Friday. The game itself was very entertaining with 10 man Pats coming from a goal down to win 1-4. The manner with which RTE produce the show leaves a lot of questions though. They finished the program by showing highlights of the game to the tune of some awful ballad that would’ve made operation shock and awe look boring. I’m 100% sure that the people in RTE know all about promotion and image creation so why they doing such a bad job needs to be looked into.

  2. Very good article and it really strikes a chord. I remember vividly when Shamrock Rovers temporarily called the RDS their home ground. I won 2 tickets to the game back in 1991 I’m sure it was, through a national newspaper. I was 16 and brought along a good friend who was and of course still is 3 years older than me. He had done a couple of coaching courses at that stage and played at a fairly decent level. He also coached our under 16 team and was a bit ahead of his time in analysing football, especially for a teenager.
    The atmosphere was buzzing as we took our seats, 20,000 were there that day, probably 2 full rounds of weekly fixtures average now. This was a chance to promote the league and displaying attractive, attacking football. Instead we witnessed a dreadful and I mean dreadful 0-0 stalemate. I have been to hundreds of games of football since and this still must rank in the top 3 or should I say bottom 3 of games I have attended. If both clubs, managers and sets of players had seen the bigger picture and ensured we witnessed a good game of football the image of the game could have been lifted. Instead I’m sure at least half in attendance that day never bothered to return to any league of Ireland game. My friend said at the time that they had missed a big opportunity to promote the league and he was fairly disgusted.
    The league of Ireland has been unlucky. Suffering badly from the financial meltdown, it really does struggle to survive and the money just isn’t there. Sadly it is hard to see any major interest from Premier League armchair viewers. I am one of them I suppose it’s fair to say. I attend most Ireland games, some League of Ireland and games in England. I also lived abroad and followed and attended football in the countries I lived in. It was a lot more appealing to go to watch Perth Glory in the sun than to travel to Dalymount Park or Tallaght on a cold winters evening.
    Some committed league of Ireland supporters can have a chip on their shoulder against those that don’t attend but if the product was of a high quality and facilities were decent then people would go. How the image is changed I don’t know and of course the GAA wields enormous power. The element of hooligans that associate themselves with some clubs is also a bit off putting and pathetic really. I am all for passion and getting behind your club but some of these self anointed ultras really let themselves and their clubs down. Some clubs have tried to make it as family friendly as possible with kids in for free etc but kids want to be Messi and Ronaldo not Christy Fagan or Chris Forrester. Having games on Friday nights wont help attract kids really either. I wouldn’t want a sanitised happy clappy crowd either but really kids have to be interested from a young age or they probably never will be. I hope things can improve and the league is better supported and more successful.

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