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Ireland Needs to Look On Its Own Doorstep To Improve Its International Soccer Aspirations

ireland euro 2012 Ireland Needs to Look On Its Own Doorstep To Improve Its International Soccer Aspirations

Had anyone chosen to watch the Ireland-Croatia game in a pub, there was hardly enough time for someone to wet their lips before the first goal was scored. Sean St. Ledger offered a brief moment of hope that was soon to be eradicated by Jelavic’s poached effort before half time. The second half started much like the first, a shot from Mandzukic hit the post, only to rebound off the back of Shay Given’s head and hit the back of the net. Then it was on to Spain, and the plan was to keep it tight—I thought at least. Again, with the game in its infancy a goal was conceded. A 1-0 score line at half time didn’t even look all that bad, by full time it was four and Ireland was out. It was Ireland’s worst showing in major championships, and it was completely deserved.

Just this morning, Monaghan United announced its withdrawal from the Irish league. John Delaney, the chief executive of the FAI, is sat in Poland enjoying the atmosphere that the ‘tremendous’ Irish fans are producing. The Irish have had a reputation, a somewhat exaggerated one, of having the best fans in the world. In a survey taken just this year, which accounted for the percentage of the population attending home games in their country, Ireland had a measly 0.51%.

So while the fans pay ludicrous money to follow Delaney’s vanity project to Poland, a team in their own backyard has to pull out midway through a season. Clubs in Ireland do not spend millions on new signings; I would be willing to hazard a guess that it would only have taken a fraction of the expense of traveling to Poland to save Monaghan’s season.

So where is the significance of this? Well I spoke in the previous article about Ireland being reliant on English clubs to develop their players, which is true. There have been exceptions, not that they have a place in the first team… yet. James McClean is a former Derry City player; he played for them right up until August of last year. Seamus Coleman made the jump from Sligo Rovers to Everton with relative ease, and if he can find the form that he showed in his debut season, he could be a major player for the Republic of Ireland. Enda Stevens moved from Shamrock Rovers to Aston Villa, where he is yet to make his breakthrough. In the desecrated landscape of Irish football, there is still that glimmer of hope and the odd breakthrough.

The problem is not that the team was beaten 4-0 by Spain or 3-1 by Croatia, or 2-0 by Italy. It rests in the poor infrastructure of Irish football. That is mainly due to a lack of priorities. Should the FAI and Irish supporters do some soul searching, they may find the answer to some, if not all, of their problems may well be on their own doorstep. €15 a week is what it costs to follow your home side here, and that €15 could easily turn out to be better spent than the hundreds of thousands the FAI choose to spend on its hierarchy. Dismal as the performance may seem, it can easily turn into a stepping stone for the future of Irish football. It’s not a question of competing for trophies, it’s the ability to compete at all. During the 90’s, Ireland picked up two underage European Championship titles, and finished third in an underage World Cup. Repeating that performance at senior level is unrealistic, and qualification is an achievement, but one show does not grease over the cracks that have appeared and continue to appear domestically. In the last twelve months, Ireland has qualified for a major tournament, and Shamrock Rovers qualified for the Europa League group stages. To continue improving, more attention needs to be given to the grassroots of Irish football.

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19 Responses to Ireland Needs to Look On Its Own Doorstep To Improve Its International Soccer Aspirations

  1. Guy says:

    Well, Eamonn I couldn’t agree with you more. But how is that to happen? I posted in another thread about Ireland’s challenge in trying to attract its best athletes to “football” as opposed to Irish football, hurling and rugby. Ireland has a particular problem in that respect that most other European countries don’t. At least in the US we have 300 million people to try to work out the exact same difficulty.

    As someone who in just the last 5 years has discovered his direct Irish lineage, I wish all good things for my motherland (both sides of my mother’s family), but it seems a grave mountain to climb. I certainly don’t have any answers…..other than to have another. ;-)

    • Paul says:

      Look at the population of Uruguay and come back to me.

      • Guy says:

        I hear ‘ya, Paul. But what is competing with football in Uruguay……bolo flinging? Irish football, hurling and rugby are all entrenched sports in Ireland. The talent pool can only take so much dilution.

        btw, what the hell are you still doing up? ;-)

        • Andrei says:

          Even better example: Ireland – population 6m, Croatia – population 4m. What is competing with football in Croatia? I don’t even know where to begin. Basketball, handball, alpine skiing, tennis, water polo to name the few.

          • Guy says:

            Not to be argumentative, Andrei, but most of those sports (minus alpine skiing) are also pursued in Ireland to one degree or another. My point is specifically about professional aspirations in the youth. In Ireland, Irish football (not soccer), hurling and rugby are all not only universally popular, but are potentially lucrative career paths. They have popular leagues and TV contracts.

            If you tell me the same is true in Croatia, then I concede.

          • Kautzie says:

            Gaelic football and Hurling are strictly amateur so they don’t get paid to play and all have normal jobs. The only way for gaelic footballers to have a lucrative career is to switch to aussie rules which several of them do.

          • Guy says:

            Thanks for that. That’s amazing. That shows you why “assume” makes an “ass out of U and me”. :-)

  2. Andrei says:

    @Gay Some of the alternatives I mentioned offer professional career on par if not better with football. For example, in basketball the names of Drazen Petrovic and Tony Kukoc should give you the idea.

  3. dust says:

    What…LOL…ok a couple of things, gaelic football, hurling and rugbybare all bigger in Ireland than football, it’s not even close, and just because other sports may be amateur in status, it doesnt mean it doesn’t steal talent away from football. (horse racing, boxing and golf are also very popular, especially bare knuckle in the south) The FAI are a joke. And as for the Croatia example, it’s hardly the same is it, Croatia has a history steeped in great football from when they were part of Yugoslavia, a once truely great footballing nation, then came the civil war and that was that, but the fundamental love for the game and nurturing skill is still there. Ireland have never even come close to that.

    Irish players were typically large in number before the influx of more continental European footballers, competition is higher for spots in British football teams as a result, and, as such means that because there are limited resources in Ireland to develop players, the current standard is what you are left with.

    The culture in Ireland is completely different with priorities placed on different things, and becoming s professional footballer just isn’t one of them. It would be great to see Ireland compete and produce great players, but it starts with the FAI and money for resources etc… Perhaps a more American model of scholarships for sports would work? It’s complex and Irish fans are understandably upset, that is until they smash the snot out of England @ rugby at landowne road.

    • Styles9002 says:

      Less than half of Ireland’s 32 counties field a senior level team to compete in the All Ireland Hurling championship so I’d wager that hurling is not a popular as soccer is in Ireland. I’d bet that if you gave a Kerryman a hurley, he probably wouldn’t know which end to hold. Indeed, except for parts of Galway and Antrim there is almost no hurling outside of the provinces of Munster & Leinster, which is sad as it is an excellent game. Gaelic Football is certainly played across the island of Ireland and is very popular but Soccer is also very popular in Ireland, nevertheless (as mentioned elsewhere here) it is almost entirely focused on the Barclays Premier League and (to a lesser extent) Celtic FC in Scotland. There is limited support for the local professional leagues and the move to summer soccer a few years ago has done little to improve it.

      As I wrote elsewhere, the FAI has to pull their finger out and invest in grass roots development of players and infrastructure to improve the youth development. It is a full-time job and requires a big investment of time and effort.

      • Guy says:

        Agree with you completely on this one. :-)

        Ireland can certainly do better, regardless of the circumstanses. But will they?

        • Styles9002 says:

          I know he can rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I think some of what Roy Keane said this past week makes sense. Even as far back as Korea/Japan 2002 he was harping on the lack of professionalism with the FAI and the pre-Cup training base in Saipan. In the end, I think he was more right than wrong but since he acted in a petulant manner it turned a lot of people off.

          The FAI now has a fine modern stadium in the Aviva Stadium as their showpiece but the rest of the infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. It goes to show (at least to me) that in 2012, 8 of 23 men on the Euro 2012 squad were born outside of Ireland and had to be ‘recruited’ to the national team. So, it appears that the FAI relies too much on other nations to develop and train its internationals (Scotland, England, N.Ireland) and that has to be addressed. There is nothing wrong with claiming the sons of the diaspora but this is over-reliance.

  4. trickybrkn says:

    All one need do is read the Monday Irish Times to understand the focus of Irish sport. It will be stories about English teams.
    of course there is always the drama of the Irish squad, which rivals the English…. Roy Keane in Korea… Stephen Ireland’s grandmother dying but not really…
    Ireland should be at the level of Denmark, but they just aren’t and won’t be in my lifetime.

  5. pleb says:

    As for the most popular sport in Ireland, if you were able to go to any playground at a school lunchtime, the chances are football will be played. The problem in is that there just isn’t enough attention paid to the development of players. Football is huge in Ireland, and arguably bigger than Rugby, certainly bigger than hurling. The problem is English football is huge in Ireland, and not Irish football.

  6. Guy says:

    Thanks to all for the input from my initial comment. You learn a little something every day.

  7. Jim says:

    I’ve been to a Galway United match in 2008, the attendance was less than stellar. There were more fans at the match in support of Leeds United. It is easy to see how the national team has a lack of talent when, like mentioned above, it is competing with rugby, hurling, and Gaelic football. Those are three very popular sports in the Republic. It could be where I was or who was playing, but I’ve seen club hurling matches draw more fans than an FAI match. It is no doubt the Irish enjoy their sport, many players are two sport guys, some even three. When it comes down to picking one, it seems a GAA sport or rugby win out most of the time. It’d be fantastic to see the Republic draw from the youth that are now leaving FAI teams to go to England clubs to gain top flight experience. Hopefully for the next tournament, those players can be selected to the starting eleven.

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