herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

Like all leagues, it's got its highs and lows but nothing beats an away-day fixture

As the Martin and Roy circus pitches its tent in town this week - okay, we're taking on the mighty Oman tonight so it's a relatively small tent - yet again the media coverage goes into overdrive ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

That the main story this week has been about Shay Given coming out of international retirement at the age of 38 is depressing enough in its own way but, yet again, it shifts focus away from the struggling battler that is the domestic game.

It's hard enough competing with the summer fling the nation enjoys with GAA, never mind having to read so-called 'jolly' stories about pitch-invading hooligans (if that Mayo bloke had pulled that stunt in Limerick last Saturday against Rovers, Bohs or Pat's he'd have been arrested and banned for life - and proper order, too) without the League of Ireland shooting itself in the foot regularly.

EMBARRASSING

In recent weeks we've had the extraordinarily embarrassing postponement of a Bohs/Rovers derby less than an hour before kick-off due to a problem with a referee and a penalty spot and a Shels/Pat's cup-tie called off following a floodlight malfunction.

The latter can happen anywhere but the former managed to annoy both managers, two sets of players, some very disgruntled supporters and even the Gardai, who surely didn't want 800 Hoops fans wandering around Phibsboro feeling a tad narked that the match had been pulled.

And yet, for all the self-inflicted injuries the League of Ireland brings on itself it still remains a vital part of sporting life for thousands of people.

Yes, there could be better facilities at several stadiums.

Yes, some clubs (and one non-Dublin outfit in particular) could try seeing away supporters as customers rather than the scum of the earth but, for all that, we still go.

Certainly, part of the appeal is the social aspect of the game. There really is nothing like getting on a bus with a bunch of your mates, cracking open a few cans and heading out of town for a good away day.

buzz

The buzz of travelling to see your team play a European fixture is priceless - even if you do get hammered, as any Rovers' fan who witnessed the walloping at Gornik Zabrze in 1994 will attest - and, like any sport, you will get massive highs and gut-wrenching lows.

Whether people choose to spend their time on a bar stool watching the Premier League has nothing to do with it (we all do that) nor am I suggesting regular matchgoers occupy some sort of moral high ground.

What does get to me is the 'I wouldn't watch that shite' attitude adopted by people who've never been through a League of Ireland ground in their lives. So enjoy Ireland against Oman by all means, but for some of us the real action will be in Turner's Cross, Richmond Park and the Brandywell this weekend.

And we wouldn't have it any other way.

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