No Time To Rest In Rehabilitation Of ‘Difficult Child’
The finale to the 2014 SSE Airtricity League was special – very special. Few stories will quite capture the imagination as much as this chapter of Dundalk FC’s history will.
It has been a romantic journey, these last two years: from the depths of despair to the highest of highs. Many pieces will be written eulogising over the club’s tale and the various twists and turns of what has been a remarkable campaign.
Whilst the celebrations will continue apace in Dundalk, for the FAI, this is not the time to rest on their laurels. The scenes in Oriel Park last Friday night were absolutely spectacular.
The ground was packed to the rafters a good hour before kick-off; the RTE cameras went live at 7.30 with Peter Collins and co. overcome by a deafening noise billowing from beneath as ‘the shed’ went berserk with smoke from the fans’ flares enveloping the gantry – nothing like this had been witnessed in an Irish domestic game before.
The cavalcade of action and emotion that followed during and after the match was a wonderful showcase for the League of Ireland and for the FAI.
John Delaney has given the domestic competition the unfortunate characterisation of ‘a difficult child’ and whilst there’s little doubt it is not without its complications, there is the feeling that this season’s exploits should provide an excellent platform to build some much-needed momentum upon with regard to its restart in March next year.
One of the most frequently used words in this season’s run-in has been ‘bandwagon’: over 5,500 crammed into Oriel Park to watch the decider play out, whilst Cork City, Dundalk’s opponents, were regularly attracting attendances upwards of 4,000 at Turner’s Cross, the highest being over 6,000. It’s absolutely imperative the FAI attempt to capitalise on that feel-good factor quickly, before the wheels fall off again.
How do they tap into that vibrancy, though? In essence, it’s about two things: entertainment and funding.
To put it in more relatable terms, you probably won’t go to see a film if you hear or read how bad it is. On the flipside, if there’s a buzz around the newest release, you’re more likely check to see what the fuss is about. These simple principles also apply themselves to the League of Ireland: the more entertaining the product, the more likely people will attend.
Back in 1998, after a number of underwhelming years, the Belgian FA took full control of their domestic product. It started with a grassroots implementation of a 4-3-3 system that would be integrated at all levels of youth football which helped promote better passing and ball retention among their kids.
Due to the complicated composition of the schoolboy structure in Ireland, that isn’t particularly feasible at the minute but one wonders whether the FAI could impose some sort of structural guidelines on how League of Ireland clubs’ youth sides should set out to play.
Ideally this sort of planning would be integrated within senior sides but it is virtually impossible to dictate how they should play. With that in mind, there should then be a massive concentration on possession football and an innate willingness to attack and score goals throughout their youth set-ups to develop these strengths in youngsters when stepping up to senior level.
The other issue is marketing and branding. Cork City have recently hit the nail on the head with their hugely successful campaigns to get supporters back into the ground with savvy ticket initiatives and excellent advertising but, overall, not enough is being done throughout the league. A lot of clubs employ PR and marketing officials but don’t have the funds to pay for proper professionals in these areas.
It is absolutely imperative that John Delaney and the FAI jump on the frenzy the finale created and target big-name companies for sponsorship for next season; not just for the league itself, but for the individual clubs. In each pocket of Ireland where clubs are based there are various major multinational businesses that should be tapped for potential partnerships and the attention the league has gotten this year should provide a healthy platform to hawk their product off.
More money means better wages for players and club professionals, better ground facilities and a better league. If the FAI are serious about helping out their ‘difficult child’ then they simply cannot let this opportunity slip from their grasp; any below-par efforts on their part should be seen as gross negligence.