Now that was interesting.
If you missed this week’s MNS, a reminder that it's available on the RTÉ Player and here at www.rte.ie/mns. I think you'll enjoy it.
Plenty of good goals, big misses, great saves and a shedload of talking points from the previous week’s action. Throw in a barney between Big Eoin Hand and Roddy Collins, and you've the ingredients of a very entertaining and informative hour of TV.
In defence of Roddy, I genuinely believe him when he says he hasn't said things for controversial effect on the programme. Yes, he occasionally has controversial opinions, but I do think they are honestly-held views and I would back him up on that. Whether you agree or disagree with his views, the reality is you're interested to hear them.
Spare a thought for Richie Sadlier who was sat between the two lads and had to hold his tongue while the two gladiators duelled. As a presenter, all you can do is sit tight and let the argument develop. Any interruption and the viewer resents you for breaking up the verbals going to and fro. So that's what I did. I think even Pete Mahon might have enjoyed this week’s show.
One of the aspects of working in the Sports department in RTÉ that is a perennial theme is that come late August into early September, people who haven’t spoken to you for the guts of a year - except to give out that extra-time in a sports event has cut into their programme time - will suddenly sidle up to you and ask for tickets for the All-Ireland finals.
Needless to say, the answer is invariably no, because as the GAA will confirm, distribution of tickets for the All-Ireland finals is akin to the loaves and fishes routine.
Demand far outstrips supply. It always has, and despite the fact that Croke Park can house 80,000 souls, it always will.
This is not a problem that is normally associated with Airtricity League clubs.
In fact, you could argue that getting bums on seats is the biggest challenge facing clubs here, and not too many people would argue against you. So it’s a strange experience to have friends, and colleagues enquiring as to whether I can sort them out with tickets for the Shamrock Rovers versus Juventus game this week. Unfortunately, the answer will probably be the same as I have to give around All-Ireland finals time.
Shamrock Rovers season ticket holders and members have first call on tickets, but it’s limited to one per person. The club have also come up with a clever marketing ploy - selling a season ticket package until the end of the season, which includes the remainder of Shamrock Rovers league matches and the Juventus game, for €100.
That allocation, a block of away tickets for the Juve fans, and media space will take care of almost all the rest of seats at Tallaght for the big game. How refreshing to see demand for a game involving a League of Ireland team, albeit, the draw of Juventus is a major one.
All of this comes in the wake of Bohemians’ shocking dismissal from the Champions League at the hands of Welsh side TNS. After winning the first leg, Bohs travelled to Wales full of confidence, but were brought down to earth as if hit with a Mike Tyson upper cut. Ironic that Iron Mike was staying in Bohemians hotel pre-match. It was the sort of knockout that Bohemians fans could hardly have anticipated and the club faces uncertain times now. Not just as a result of the defeat in Wales, but because despite reducing the wage bill by over 50%, the full-time set-up at the club is hard to sustain on the size of the crowds they’ve been getting at Dalymount this season.
I’d like to think that full-time football is possible here into the future and I wouldn’t be as quick as Pete Mahon to throw in the towel when it comes to full-time professional football. Dermot Keely is another ultra-pessimist when it comes to the full-time versus part-time debate. Yes, wages need to be reduced, and they have been over the last two seasons without a doubt. Obviously everyone needs to work hard and come up with imaginative ways to get punters through the gates. It’s too easy to give up and say the appetite isn’t there for football in Ireland. When the product is good, and it’s promoted well, the people will come.
I’m not holding Shamrock Rovers and Tallaght up as the poster boys for the league, but they are doing some things very well, and they’re being rewarded at the moment. Other clubs should try to tap into what Rovers are doing, and I know at least one club (maybe more) have spoken to the Hoops about what they can do to increase their revenue streams and get people coming to the matches.
As for the purveyors of doom and gloom, I’d say take your head out of the sand.
Get schoolkids in the area interested in coming to the games. They are the future season ticket holders. Invite them to the games for free (I know some clubs are already doing this and it’s bearing some fruit).
Anybody who says soccer in Ireland is a dead duck obviously hasn’t been going to the same venues as me this season. It’s not just Tallaght by the way. I’ve been to games in Sligo this season where the stands have been full, the crowds noisy, and the atmosphere great.
Likewise at Dundalk. Oriel Park wasn’t 100% rammed, but it was a big crowd and they generate a great atmosphere there. To be fair, Dalymount is a big ground to fill, and for some of the bigger games the crowds have been good and the atmosphere has crackled, but because of it’s size it can seem to lack buzz when it’s sparsely populated.
One of the best atmospheres I’ve encountered this season is when Saint Patrick’s Athletic hosted Shamrock Rovers at Inchicore. Because it’s an intimate setting, and because the Saints are going so well, it’s been fantastic.
So to the Dermot Keelys and other doom merchants, I’d say don’t give up yet. There could still be good times ahead.
Finally a reminder that you can listen to the League of Ireland Football Show right here. This week’s guests were Irish Daily Star journalist Mark McCadden and Airtricity League promotions and marketing manager Noel Mooney. Along with interviews with Pat Fenlon and Pete Mahon, it makes for a lively half hour. The programme is also available for podcast.