Irish soccer turning a corner

Perhaps the Shelbourne victory over Hajduk Split of Croatia was a bit overhyped. After all Croatia has a population less than the island of Ireland, is far poorer and its capital is much smaller than Dublin. (And Split is just a provincial town).

And yet it was probably Ireland’s best result in Europe. It was a fantastic tribute to a much-maligned club (domestically) which has seen itself as a winner and refuses to take second best.

What made the result so great was our hitherto failure to make a dent in European competitions.

On the same day that Shels won came the announcement of a new north-south competition sponsored by the Setanta TV station. And wasn’t that the right note as a pointer to Irish soccer’s future.

Getting people to attend football matches is important but not nearly as important as getting them so sit down in front of the TV to watch. Because TV means big audience, means big advertising, means big money.

Shels will make a killing from the TV rights from the Deportiva match. With this money they can buy better players and then they will be able to compete with bigger clubs,,,to earn more money… and so on.

Is this a good thing?

Well, there is a bad side, in that a few clubs can monopolise revenues leaving the rest to make wild speculative investments in players (like Leeds United, for example) that does precious little to promote soccer at local level.

But that’s going to happen anyway. Up to now, no Irish club has shared in the successful side with the result that most young Irish people reckon that anyone still playing in Ireland must be a failure. It is obviously a bad thing to be bringing our kids up with these notions.

So how are we going to produce sides which can compete in the group stages of the champions league?

There are two models on offer. One is the Norwegian idea, which is to produce one superclub in Ireland. This is really not a good plan because it has ended up with Rosenberg winning the last nine Norwegian league titles. That makes the Scottish premier league look exciting.

The second model is that offered by Irish rugby. This year’s triple crown winning team had around thirteen of the side plying their trade in Ireland. That is a fantastic achievement in a sport with huge sums of money hanging around it.

Of course, this has been achieved by the provincial system where four Irish sides compete at the highest level of European rugby. This alternative is not yet available to Irish soccer but that’s where the future might lie.

European regional completions might well be a precursor to the much touted, but perhaps overrated, European superleague. The north-south competition is a good start but I think that a UKI league (United Kingdom and Ireland) could be the vehicle to launch Irish soccer to a new level.

There will be big successful clubs in this city and Shels have laid a mighty claim to be one of them