Thursday, January 24, 2008

Our Heroes

Have the FAI discovered the spirit of Glasnost? They opened their bunker to 30 or so extraordinary members of the public recently; extraordinary in that they were that rarest of things, eircom League fans. Lovebombed into submission by Fran Gavin, Noel Mooney and Padraig Smith this proved to be a polished presentation on the wonderful world of the FAI's eircom League leadership.

Cynicism is inevitable from jaded sufferers of Irish football once that acronym is mouthed and most who refuse to take off the blinkers, but there continues to be no other horse to back. The All-Ireland league proposals are sexy under dimmed lighting; but there are many unanswered questions and may be better suited to the future. Our professionalism is still in development and I believe the FAI are doing a fine job of supporting our early steps.

Each negative event is greeted with plates of snide and bowls of derision. The demise of Kilkenny City is a case in point. Had the Cats continued for 2008, then collapsed mid-term, what a cockery it would have made of our league - or have the memories of the tumult caused by Dublin City's implosion been forgotten? Yes, Brother Gavin's comments regarding his hope that other clubs take the same action as Kilkenny were open to misinterpretation; reasoned observers can extract the true meaning from his words.

Any entity which has been run in a cowboy fashion - as the League of Ireland was - is going to take some whipping into shape. Generally the bottom is the best place to start. The brown envelope years, the shoddy player welfare, poor training facilities (recently a hugely successful LOI player from the mid 80's into the 90's recalled running a circuit through the dressing rooms and out along the pitchside at Dalymount Park for a night's training; pre-season entailed chasing skirt around the Isle Of Man during the wee island's summer tournament).

Things have moved on hugely since then, mainly in the Premier Division although not always incrementally. That said, clubs like Finn Harps and Galway United have sprung from the First Division, Dundalk may be about to. The new leaders are setting in place structures; a dull word I know, but much paddling has to go on beneath the water for the swan to glide gracefully. The basics must be right if we are to attract investment into our game.

Even without the completion of this, John Delaney has managed to groom a sugar-daddy for Perennial Crisis FC down Limerick-way, and this should be seen as a coup on a par with the Granny-rule successes of the Charlton era. A city that oozes footballing potential may finally have it realized again almost 30 years after their last slowdance with success.

Increased TV exposure has been extracted from the national broadcaster in the form of an improved highlights package - hopefully a professional presentation almost on a par with the Premiership highlights programme - broadcasting at a time when most viewers are actually awake.

Of course, we must not leave the minnows behind. It's difficult to envisage the likes of Monaghan United capturing the Premier Division title; but their existence is crucial to the development of our product nationally. Strategically placed clubs can offer youngsters across the nation the possibility of top class football close to their own doorstep. Inevitably the best of the crop will be hoovered up by the big clubs, such s the survival of the fittest - football thrives on its elite.

Of the current crop Rovers, Bohs and Cork amongst others have the potential to appeal to longlost football supporters. The two Dublin clubs are heading out to new stadia in the coming years - the Mammies like nice toilets and will be pleased to bring their demanding offspring to
the shiny new temples and spend copious amounts of cash on overpriced food and drink, not to mention souvenirs.

Sounds uncannily like an English Premiership experience I know, but if we want to progress our game we need to fill those seats and empty those wallets in order to increase turnover enough to line the pockets of better quality players.

Much as we love to hate the English elite league - it's really jealousy - it's a slickly run cashcow adored by millions. OK, we'll never reach those heights, but as a model there is much to be taken from its operations.

As fans we continue to rail against every edict from Abbotstown, feeling that big brother is breathing down our arses. It is crucial that we follow the mantra; John Delaney may have his faults, it's widely agreed that he's a capable administrator. Let us bare our holes to his powers for a while longer.

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