herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

What's gone wrong with capital game?

Dub clubs losing race for trophies and fans

The growing amount of empty seats for Dublin’s League of Ireland clubs is a worry as increasing numbers of football supporters in the city have chosen to stay away from matches this season
The growing amount of empty seats for Dublin’s League of Ireland clubs is a worry as increasing numbers of football supporters in the city have chosen to stay away from matches this season
The growing amount of empty seats for Dublin’s League of Ireland clubs is a worry as increasing numbers of football supporters in the city have chosen to stay away from matches this season

One city, two codes and a whole heap of problems for the Garrison Game in the capital.

As the curtain draws down on the League of Ireland season with the last round of fixtures this evening, sports fans in the city will, once again, greet the LOI calendar with a shrug of indifference, the same city in which a very healthy aggregate gate of 12,000 went to see two semi-finals in the Dublin Senior Football Championship in the space of 24 hours this week.

The only game in the capital tonight is St Patrick's Athletic at home to Derry City, a dead rubber as there is nothing at stake, Derry already assured of the European place which Pat's have been denied for the first time in eight years.

The Saints, champions of Ireland only three years ago, had an average gate of 573 for their last four home league games.

But with nothing to play for, and with the patience (and wallets) of hardcore fans tested by an insane fixture list which has seen the Inchicore club play five home games this month (meanwhile Bohemians had just one home fixture in October), the clubs will struggle for numbers again tonight after hitting a low of 369 punters for their game against Cork City 11 days ago.

The bean counters at the Dublin 8 club can only look with envy across the Liffey, where a crowd of around 8,000 paid in to Parnell Park for Wednesday's semi-final in the senior football championship: the best gate for a Dublin derby (in soccer) this season an attendance of 3,627.

The city's LOI clubs are, for now, losing the battle to get bums on seats: thanks to the good record-taking of the lads at extratime.ie, we know that 10 of the Premier Division games played in Dublin in 2016 had attendances below the 1000-mark.

Shamrock Rovers, the best-supported of the Dublin clubs, averaged 2,759 for their first few home games of the season, but in the second half of a disappointing campaign, gates at Tallaght Stadium were, more often than not, below 1,500.

And the clubs are struggling on the field as well as at the turnstiles. Before the final series of games tonight, Shamrock Rovers are the only Dublin side in the top four and it's quite possible that Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic will finish in the bottom half, while city sides Shelbourne and Cabinteely have already been doomed to a bottom-half finish in Division One.

Possibly backing up the (rather ridiculous) argument that, in GAA, the almighty Dublin intercounty side should be split into two counties to give everyone else a chance to catch up, in the LOI we have six Dublin clubs in a 20-team competition, none of them successful.

Irish football is used to things happening in waves: a decade ago, when Bohs and Shels were dominating, Dundalk were adrift in the First Division, now those two clubs are years behind Dundalk. From 1998-2011, Dublin clubs won 13 of the 15 Premier Division titles, but a Dublin side has managed just one title win in the last five.

A revamped Shamrock Rover could make a stab at the league title next season, but with Bohs working off a tight budget and a likely reduction in the budget for 2017 for Pat's, a challenge is unlikely to come from there.

Generation

But, as all of the Dublin sides have found out, winning titles won't have the turnstiles moving.

In particular there is real fear around St Pat's that a generation of support has been lost and the age profile of their fan base is a worry. Derbies aside, the average home crowd for Bohs has been static at around 1,200 for some time, with no real sign of growth.

There are bright spots. Bohemians' home ground of Dalymount Park, which opened for business in the same year that Queen Victoria ruled over this land, will be torn down and rebuilt as a stadium fit for the modern age and not the Victorian era, the new ground open for business in 2020 or 2021. Tallaght Stadium will get a new stand, adding to the capacity and potential atmosphere.

Rovers and Pat's, in particular, have fed a steady supply of young players into their first team and it was pleasing to see 18-year-old JJ Lunney score his first league goal, a stunning one at that, for Pat's in this week's 5-2 defeat of Dundalk, and days earlier Bohs blooded another 18-year-old, Dean Casey, for his debut against the champions. Rovers have a cluster of young talent and the Hoops are putting the emphasis on a youth policy.

But in the centenary of 1916, it's hard to know when Dublin will rise up again.

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