[title1] Airtricity League Focus: [/title1]
THE NEW season kicks off on Friday and mirroring the state of the nation’s finances, an age of austerity has dawned on the League of Ireland.
Just like the property bubble, full-time professional football here is now a thing of the past.
For some the effects have been just as catastrophic.
Sporting Fingal have ceased to exist following the withdrawal of their financial benefactor.
The Dublin outfit had been touted as the future model for clubs in this country with their partnership with Fingal County Council, community initiatives and plans for the future.
Despite FAI Cup success and promotion to the top flight, the club were unable to foster substantial support from the Fingal public.
Bohemians narrowly avoided a similar fate with two players threatening court action to force a winding -up order until the parties reached a compromise over outstanding wages.
What is certain is that manager Pat Fenlon has greatly reduced resources at his disposal, and it’s conceivable that the Gypsies will pose no threat in the title stakes this season.
Derry City are back in the big time having also almost gone to wall.
Galway and Drogheda continue to face money troubles as they come to grips with the new economic dawn in Irish football.
If full-time professional soccer is no more, can we expect a drop in standards of the domestic game?
Results in Europe in recent years were the benchmark that proved Irish clubs had improved dramatically, coming tantalisingly close on occasions to the Champions and Europa League group stages. Making that breakthrough could well have been the catalyst for a revolution in the game here, but the cost of failure has had a devastating impact on the former big guns of Irish football, like Cork, Drogheda, Bohs, and Shelbourne.
Shamrock Rovers have shown that a part-time set-up need not mean a drop in quality. And a look at recent Republic of Ireland squads vindicates the assertion that the league here can prove a breeding ground for talent.
Seamus Coleman, Keith Fahey, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Brian Murphy, and Noel Hunt all took their formative steps in the full-time professional league of Ireland.
This week saw Conor Henderson make his first team debut for Arsenal but he is a rarity in recent years of Irish players emerging from Premier League academies.
With less youngsters crossing the Irish Sea to pen deals with English sides, the League of Ireland has increasingly become the conveyor belt for producing emerging talents such as Stephen Ward at Wolves and rejuvenating those who thought their chance had passed, like Keith Fahey.
Last week Kevin Doyle sang the praises of Wexford Youths supremo and Ireland’s answer to Silvio Berlusconi, Mick Wallace (in that he got elected to the Dail. We have no idea if Mick partakes in Bunga Bunga parties in Courtown).
The League of Ireland has emerged in the last decade to become a significant contributor of talent that can be moulded for the national team.
Economic strife has affected all strands of Irish society, but particularly domestic football.
However, it’s on the pitch where it can continue to make its impact felt. On Friday the action returns to grounds up and down the land when league points and unearthing hidden gems are the only currencies that matters for both club and country.