Irish football is, once again, at a crossroads. After the exposure of the already-obvious flaws of the FAI, its governing body, the League of Ireland has found itself looking in familiar directions again, reading the same signs. Perhaps the most discussed route is that of an all-island league including teams from Northern Ireland.
The League of Ireland is interesting in so much as the people who care about it at a half decent level are usually the ones with all the logical answers – or at the least the ones willing to engage in actual discourse. So used are we to Powerpoint presentations and half-arsed debriefs that they barely even register anymore.
But now there seems to be actual momentum behind this concept of a cross-border amalgamation and just because of the sincerity, people are willing to get excited, forget the obvious flaws that come with such an arrangement, simply because actual action hasn’t been forthcoming for close to a decade now.
Simply put – it can’t happen.
Apart from a romanticised idea of the reunification of a single Ireland being represented in something tangible like a football league, there isn’t even any real reason for fans of either to want this.
Practically speaking, a joint league would mean fewer European spots. There are already four European places in the League of Ireland, which wouldn’t increase due to more teams being added – taking away much-needed cashflow for teams who can’t run themselves.
The logistics, too. Granted, it would save money for the likes of Derry and Finn Harps, but can you imagine asking Cobh Ramblers to travel to Coleraine on a Friday night? Not a chance. Even if you moved matchdays to Saturdays, you’re clashing with your direct competition across the pond.
Underage setup is a primary focus for a lot of clubs in Ireland now – do you then ask them to subsidise travel for all their underage teams? Both leagues have a majority of part-time clubs. Requiring players who have full-time jobs to start requesting an extra day off to do an overnight trip isn’t feasible and means any such league would probably have to be fully professional. Right now, in Ireland, there isn’t the climate for that to succeed.
Of course, there could be sectarian issues, but largely speaking, the Setanta Cup went by without major incident. These problems would be massively overstated. The logistics are the worrying part, and they can’t be ignored.
Rivalries would develop, sure – but you would have to wave goodbye to clubs or at least find a place to put the excess. You’re casting decades of tradition aside for a shiny new commodity that wouldn’t last five years off any such blueprint.
It’s understandable that, post-FAI meltdown, everyone is quick to pitch in with ideas, but there isn’t a whole lot that can be done. The elephant in the room is that League of Ireland sides are significantly superior to their Northern Irish counterparts – it wouldn’t be of any benefit to the Premiership sides and fans couldn’t possibly fork out even more money to follow their teams.
The only people to whom this all makes sense are the ones piecing together a proposal to seize control by popular vote and that’s not with anyone else in mind other than themselves. Quite possibly, the novelty might increase attendances for a year or so, but that short-term line of thought has stung us as a footballing nation before, and it probably will again.
But hey, UCD versus Ballinamallard could swing a few thousand in the gate, right?