A step forward but problem remains for home game

When facts and figures are used to assess the well-being of the League of Ireland, the old line about lies, damned lies and statistics comes to mind. They can be used selectively to paint a positive or negative picture, depending on a person’s point of view.

The lines are undeniably up, yet they are coming from a low base. Sporting standards are improving, yet transfer values ​​seem to be declining. English clubs are buying in more numbers here, yet they are League One rather than the Premier League. For every pro, there is a con.

European results are the easiest reference point and they paint a picture of health. Here’s a statistic: If Shamrock Rovers finish the job against Macedonia’s Shkupi in Skopje on Tuesday, and St Patrick’s Athletic do enough to defend the lead they brought back from their Bulgarian clash with the mighty CSKA Sofia on Thursday, So 2022 will produce more knock-out wins for League of Ireland than any other.

This would bring the tally to six, with Rovers already enjoying Champions League success over Malta’s Hibernians, a win that gave them a back-door route to both the Europa League and Europa Conference League. Their meeting with Shchupi is in the Europa League and if they win their third round tie, they get to crack the play-offs in that competition, safe in the knowledge that a Conference League group stage place and €3.3m first. It’s in his back pocket ever since.

Sligo Rovers’ race ends on Thursday, but they will always cherish the memories of Motherwell’s comfortable dismissal, which was followed by a penalty shoot-out win over Bala Town in Wales. And the €850,000 he earned will go a long way. Reality is a bit tougher in Norway on Thursday, when the strong Viking Stavanger scored five in the middle of his season in a two-team meeting; John Russell’s team had gained a fitness edge in their previous matches.

St Patrick’s Athletic received a bye in the first round of the Conference League, then went on to overtake Slovenia’s Mura, who was a group stage participant. Seeing CSKA Sofia enter the final play-off round will be anything they have done before in Europe and earn more than €1m. The idea of ​​six knock-out successes in a single campaign would have been unthinkable in the 1990s, when just three two-legged victories in a full decade showed where the local game stood at the time the national team flourished. – It was flourishing. It remains a wasted opportunity.

An important caveat to 27 victories in 2000–2010 and 23 victories in 2010–2019 (thanks to St Patrick’s athletic fan John Owens for his statistical work) is the increased exclusivity of the Champions League, and the division of minor leagues into the early stages. Round qualifiers provide more winnable chances. 2020 is set to raise the bar further with 13 progresses ahead of this week. Five wins in a year were achieved in 2006, 2016 and 2021, with the previous year marking the arrival of a third-tier conference league to promote Teltan Cup-style to the lowlights, although Stardust still at the top end. is spraying.

The broad point is; Ireland’s league is definitely getting better and on Thursday night, buoyed by Kerryman Gary O’Neill’s surprise 96th-minute strike, Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley spoke about how to adopt a more flashy style of play. has eased the transition to continental regions. Gone are the days of fall.

Stephen Kenny was the soldier he was before and has moved on by staying true to the faith in Europe where he is now. The Irish manager, however, made a timely cautionary note to counter the good vibes last week.

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Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

“The league itself, it’s hurting,” he said, referring to his departure this summer. Darragh Burns (MK Dons from St Patrick’s Athletic) scored the biggest fee and was €180,000. Dawson joined the same club for a six-figure sum from Devoy Bohemians. Danny Mandroiou was able to leave Shamrock Rovers for Lincoln with only €30,000 changing hands because he had a release clause in his contract.

Promise Omochere (Bohs to Fleetwood), Ed McGinty (Sligo Rovers to Oxford), Eoin Tall (Derry City to Bolton) and Eric Yoro (UCD to Bolton) were all able to go for five-figure sums, although add-ons were attached. Were. if they do well. This has sparked a debate about the control of agents and there is talk of clubs coming together to agree on a collective strategy to deal with it.

“When I was Dundalk’s manager, we would lose our best player at the end of the year,” says Kenny. Pat Hoban, Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle all went through various stages.

“Now, players are getting moves after just 15-20 matches and this is a weak team. All European performances were spectacular, but Shamrock Rovers lost Danny Mandroiu, who could have been very important to them in Europe. These players are difficult to replace and there should be a debate on what to do [as regards clauses in contracts], The clubs are rivals and that’s the problem. I used to fight tooth and nail to never put that kind of clause in the contract but if you don’t, maybe that player goes to a rival club.

“They are not a good fee at the moment. People say it is, but it is not that if your best player loses the reason is that you don’t go through a round in Europe, or don’t qualify for the next year. . It’s worth a lot.”

Kenny is a fan of Bradley’s Rovers and believes the absence of a really strong home rival is holding him back.

“They’ve won the last few leagues comfortably and you’d think they’d be better off if they were pushed to their limits, but now it’s a great opportunity for them,” he insisted.

Other clubs fearing Rovers domination will see their potential progress as a source of difficulty. It’s still a better problem than the problems presented by years of habitual failure.