Friday, 1 June 2012

Leagues of Opportunity

23 players will board the plane for Ireland’s first involvement in a major tournament in 10 years.

A squad with players plying their trade in England, Scotland, US of A and Russia.

A squad with Premiership experience - Champions League too.

And a squad with 610 games in the League of Ireland between them.

Of the group still in with a chance of starting the tournament, there are no fewer than 7 players who have strutted their stuff in this islands own League.

An absolute testament to how the standard of talent in the League of Ireland has risen in the last ten years.

Stephen Ward, James McClean, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, David Forde, Keith Fahey and Seamus Coleman.

All stand a chance of being in the final squad for Euro 2012.

All played in the League of Ireland at some stage in their career.

And the list doesn’t stop there.

Calls for Wes Hoolahan of Norwich have been loud.

Daryl Murphy at Celtic, Conor Sammon at Wigan, Noel Hunt at Reading, David Meyler at Sunderland and Brian Murphy at QPR were all on the periphery of the squad over the last season.

All together making 457 appearances in the League at home.

A League that has risen in stock.

And keeps rising.

Having knocked on the door of the group stages of Europe for a few years, it was Shamrock Rovers who finally made the break though only last season.

Aston Villa were the first to identify the talent from that pool of players.

And with our options at left back in the senior team limited - how long before we see Enda Stevens gain international recognition?

The standard of the English Premier League has of course risen in this time as well.

Pushing Ireland’s best - lower down the ranks.

The lower they fall, the more the League of Ireland presents it’s appeal.

In search of either redemption or simply a continuation of their craft, the option to return home is far more enticing of late compared to even the early ‘00’s.

Any young Irish player contemplating a return home need look no further than the success story of Keith Fahey.

Having spent 2 seasons at Arsenal and a further 2 at Aston Villa, Keith found himself playing for Bluebell United at the age of 20.

9 years on and he’s heading to Poland for a major championship.

Roy O’Donovan, Gary Deegan, Karl Sheppard to name but a few have all come home for a period and headed back over after very successful spells.

The League of Ireland also has great offerings on the pictch too, for players outside the Premier League.

Shamrock Rovers’ squad got to play in 12 European games this season.

Against some quality opposition.

Even lesser teams like St. Pats made it through 4 rounds of European competition when Keith was their talisman.

Sligo, Derry, Cork,
Bohemians and Shelbourne have all had great success in Europe too.

An unlikely occurrence for those plying their trade in the Championship or lower.

It can provide opportunities for players who can look beyond the Premier League bubble as well.

Padraig Amond, Dominic Foley and Shane Robinson all earned rewards to the top divisions of Portugal, Belgium and Finland respectively, after being spotted while playing in European competition.

Managers too.

Brian Kerr went from managing St. Pats to landing the biggest job in Ireland.

Lawrie Sanchez went from Sligo to the Premier League to the biggest job in Northern Ireland.

Michael O’Neill has that hotseat now.

And there was Sam Allardyce at Limerick too.

Stephen Kenny, Jim Gannon and now Pat Fenlon have all engineered moves to bigger clubs after successful periods managing at home.

But of course for every success story of players going back across to bigger clubs -  there are those who ended up in League 1, 2 or lower.

Roy O’Donovan, Joe Gamble, Dave Mooney and Alan Bennett were star players for Cork around the same time as Kevin and Shane.

But they couldn’t match the success they found.

Instead they found their level.

The league still granted them the opportunity to go higher, they just couldn’t find the path.

But it is giving the opportunities to these players.

No many had heard of James McClean at the start of the season.

But that’s because attendances are low in the league.

For those of us who did see him for the candystripes - we knew how good he was.

Good enough to have the whole nation demand he gets an opportunity against Spain.

Good enough to ensure a Derry City player gets the opportunity to finish a season at a European Championships.

Good enough to take his opportunity...


  1. Appearances in the League of Ireland:

    175 - Keith Fahey (St. Pats, Drogheda Utd)
    127 - David Forde (Galway Utd, Derry City)
    093 - Stephen Ward (Bohemians)
    086 - Kevin Doyle (Cork City)
    073 - James McClean (Derry City)
    055 - Seamus Coleman (Sligo Rovers)
    001 - Shane Long (Cork City)

    133 - Wes Hoolahan (Shelbourne)
    102 - Daryl Murphy (Waterford Utd)
    097 - Brian Murphy (Bohemians)
    085 - Conor Sammon (UCD, Derry City)
    034 - Noel Hunt (Shamrock Rovers, Waterford Utd)
    006 - David Meyler (Cork City)