Thursday, January 31, 2008

Incrementally

The word is a boon for dreamers, fantasists and those who have just realised that they are not going to succeed in their task. From Derry to Cork, Dublin to Galway and within and beyond those points eL football is alive and fighting.

Back in the aftermath of the 2006 season we were left with a sour taste as the newly-crowned eircom League premier Division champions collapsed under the weight of their financial commitments. Shelbourne had bought the dream, but couldn't afford the payments. Unlike Dublin City in the previous year, the aged club did not sink into oblivion but managed to slow down the ingress of water in the First Division.

A far cry then from talk of Champions League group stages and international recognition for domestic football. Some of our best players crossed the water to ply their trade in England & Scotland; lands were professional football appeared to on a firmer footing; a place where wages would be paid each week, or fortnightly, or monthly. Drogheda United went on to win the subsequent Premier Division title - a famous first for the Drogs, but they were the main beneficiaries of a league which had seen the standards of the top sides slip a little. The Louthmen managed to hold their ground while others slipped back and were duly rewarded.

Our exploits in Europe disappointed, nobody was capable of building upon or even matching, the efforts of Derry City in 2006. But for 2008 many of our Flying Geese have returned. Jason Byrne, Bobby Ryan, George O'Callaghan et al are eL footballers once more. Cynics and professional sneerers will be quick to point them out as failed pros who are returning with their tails up their tails.

But each one returns having added further to their footballing education. Training and playing with and against a better quality of player can only have improved their ability, although in some cases, their perception of that ability. Added to the signings of players like David Partridge, Joe O'Cearruill and Joe Kendrick to name three we are to be gifted a significant improvement in the quality of player on show in Irish football. The players they have displaced will strengthten the squads of sides further down the food chain.

These players command significant outlay on the part of their respective employers and their presence would not be possible without the presence of deep-pocketed benefactors - of course this is a revenue stream under greater scrutiny as part of the ongoing 65% wage cap saga.

We must allow ourselves the time to applaud the steely vision of the clubs who are strenuously striving to take our game onto the next level. It's a slow and painful journey on a difficult road. The effort required to convince investors that there is a future for the game here cannot be underestimated. We've all looked around us from time to time at a ground and wondered why.

Incremental steps - sometimes forward, sometimes back. But progress no matter how minute is still progress. Even then, while some clubs advance and prosper others flail. There will be victims - Kilkenny City have not been able to keep apace - others ail.

Upon reflection, last season can be deemed a transitional one, 2008 brings forth the promise of increased quality, better competition and incremental progress.

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