Thursday, March 06, 2008

Moral Victories

Remember the time when Ireland's international side could lose a game and still claim a moral victory; we certainly expect more of our highest echelon nowadays. Improvements have bedded in sufficiently over the years for fans to forget about them, and expect more. This is not unfair as the international set-up is fully professional and the highest standards of preparation and organisation are the least we can demand.

Improvement is easily achieved when the journey begins from a low level of performance, and here we can recognise some of the properties of the League of Ireland. Derided and mocked into near collapse by 'fans' for almost forty years - 'fans' who could see no further than the far side of the Irish Sea- it has too often been the victim of self-inflicted wounds also. A talent bestowed in equal quantities on the parent body.

It would seem strange then that League of Ireland clubs would accept the rule of an often inept FAI in order to improve the status of the domestic divisions. Perhaps it served only to indicate how bad things really must have been in the alleyways and dark corners of administration.

So in they came, besuited now, no blazers - and they have achieved fantastic improvements in a single year. Qualified achievements however, from that previously mentioned low level. Approximately 100,000 extra supporters are reported to have come through the turnstiles, live TV coverage reached higher levels than ever before and there was no major off-field farce for the press to get their keyboards into.

Those achievements must now be filed and stored, for they are finished as achievements. They now become a platform for 2008. The ante is most definitely upped. More Club Promotion Officers will serve this season - hopefully they will increase the momentum generated by their colleagues last term. The basics being put into place off-field are allowing clubs to experience a growing confidence in themselves and in what may be possible.

Who would have believed fifteen or so years ago that we would have so many professional outfits preparing for the new season? The naysayers point to the fact that the level of spending is unsustainable and clubs are living on borrowed time - surely the kind of money being 'invested' by interested parties suggests a growing belief in the product on their part. I say 'invested' for it is taken as a given that there will be no financial return in the near future.

It was announced this week that five million euros would be fed into the domestic leagues during 2008 -covering prize money, grants, TV payments and subsidies. Small beer compared to the sums achieved in other countries but giant vats for our embryonic professionalism. It's widely accepted that we need a club to make the elusive breakthrough into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League. Only this will turn the heads of those throughout our land who are focussed on the Premiership.

We are going to have, for the first time in my memory, a highlights package (which promises to be more than just that) at a godly hour; yet another sign that the tide is rising. Such a development does not simply fall into the laps of our FAI drones - it is certainly the end product
of much toil and groundwork.

The message remains though that we cannot beat our chests and comfort ourselves with the thought that the hard work is done. The next few weeks will serve as a stark reminder that grounds need improving and filling. Upward and onward.

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