Good on Paper: Flights of Fancy for Ireland’s Damned United

UNEMPLOYED League of Ireland footballers will fly to Norway in January looking to find new clubs in bids to remain as professionals.

The days of Irish players earning thousands a week are well and truly over. The PFAI will lead a squad to Scandinavia in the new year, made up of young Irish professionals who can no longer earn a wage in the domestic league.

The only clubs offering full-time professional contracts in Ireland can now only do so for 40 weeks of the year. With the season just ended, many players have no choice but to join the dole queues.

The financial difficulties of Irish clubs have been well documented in recent years, fuelled by the wholly unsustainable ballooning of wages. Shelbourne FC retain much of the blame, gambling a place in the UEFA Champion’s League on exorbitant player pay scales.

Ireland’s version of Leeds United almost hit the jackpot when they held Deportivo La Coruna scoreless in the first leg of the final qualifying round. In front of a sell-out 24,000 crowd at Lansdowne Road, Shelbourne went tantalisingly close to the big time on a glorious night for the domestic game back in 2004.

The subsequent 3-0 defeat not only ended Shels’ dreams, it almost caused the extinction of the club. Worse still, it has had a rapid deteriorating effect on the rest of the clubs who, whether by choice or necessity, were forced to pursue similar crazy wage structures in order to compete with the front runners.

“Even the lesser performers were securing deals worth close to six figures. Joe Gamble was offered a contract in the region of €250,000 a year by St Patrick’s Athletic, who dished out over €3,500 every seven days to Gary Dempsey.”

We are still seeing the fallout with Derry City and Cork City disappearing only to be reformed to begin life in the First Division.

Champions of last year, Bohemians, are currently in the midst of a crisis which could see the Dalymount outfit go to the wall, while staff pay across the league has nose-dived.

Meanwhile, the players who bought into the dream of a professional career in Ireland are now left in football limbo. There’ll be no bail-out for the League’s full-time footballers. Come January, they are bailing out of the country.

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