The Irish season kicks off with the 2017 President’s Cup this weekend, when League of Ireland champions Dundalk travel to FAI Cup winners Cork City in the curtain-raiser to the domestic campaign. The Irish version of the Community Shield was initiated to honour our football-loving first citizen, Michael D. Higgins.
President Higgins is no stranger to the beautiful game. He’s a long-time president of Galway United Football Club and even took time to attend the Tribesmen’s promotion/relegation play-off shortly before his inauguration.
The Irish president is invited to each Irish home international but perhaps none of the nation’s premiers have done so with such enthusiasm as the cuurent office-holder. In fact appearances at soccer games in the past haven’t been without controversy. Back in 1938, having been inaugurated in June, Ireland’s new president Douglas Hyde attended the friendly against Poland, a move that was seen as breaching the GAA’s ban on ‘foreign’ games and he was subsequently removed as patron of the association, an honour he had held since 1902.
In 1952 Archbishop John Charles McQuaid persuaded the FAI to decline an invitation to host communist Yugoslavia in Dublin. Three years later, the FAI, feeling its stance was out of step with international footballing opinion, arranged another game without consulting the Archbishop. McQuaid unsuccessfully called for a boycott. An article in the Irish Press newspaper read: ‘The president (Seán T. O’Kelly) has informed Mr. J.L. Wickham, FAI secretary, of his intention to attend the soccer international against Yugoslavia in Dublin next Wednesday.’ Political pressure eventually meant he, and government officials, did not go to the game. However, over 20,000 people did show up to a match, described by irishlabour.com, that “has entered Dublin folk-memory as the day when the city’s working class, quite literally, roared back at its archbishop.”
While his predecessor Mary McAleese was a somewhat irregular visitor to Lansdowne Road, President Higgins has availed of his ticket at most opportunities. He’s also been a frequent visitor to League of Ireland grounds since taking office attending games at Dalymount, Richmond Park, Tolka Park, and Tallaght Stadium among others.
President Higgins has previously called on Irish international fans to support domestic soccer. “That identification of clubs with communities is very important”
During Euro 2012, the popular first citizen was out and about mingling with Irish fans in Poland and was again present during Ireland’s Euro 2016 adventure in France showing his passion for the Boys in Green when celebrating Wes Hoolahan’s goal against Sweden.
The President has often spoken of his love for the game, saying:
“Soccer is very important. If you took it out of Irish life, you’d have a great big hole.”
President Higgins will miss this year’s encounter as he is currently on a state tour to South America but he recently hosted the managers and members of both clubs at at Áras an Uachtaráin.
He is sure to be back visiting league grounds upon his return when the league season kicks off.
In a previous interview, he said: “I get 150 invitations a week, but I’ve been trying to tell (my team) that I have a very special set of obligations for Friday evenings roughly from about 7.00 to 9.30”