herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

Low gates of high concern

Players' chief fears repeat of Monaghan collapse

THE NATIONAL sense of doom and gloom in the aftermath of Ireland's limp display at Euro 2012 seems to have bitten into the League of Ireland, with just over 3,300 punters paying in to see Dublin's big four clubs play out two local derbies last week.

But the representative body for League of Ireland players is hopeful that clubs here can survive a drop in attendances and get through to the end of the season without any more disasters like the Monaghan United situation.

LOI action resumed last weekend after a two-week break for Euro 2012 but the Irish public showed little appetite for the fare on offer, with an aggregate attendance of just 6,803 attending the five Premier Division games last week while just over 1,000 more paid in to see all four Division One matches.

Reported attendances for top flight games, like 519 (for Drogheda United v Bray Wanderers) and just 158 (UCD-Dundalk) are a worry but also of concern is the relatively poor gates for the big Dublin derbies last week, with just over 3,300 as an overall official attendance for both the St Pats-Bohemians and Shelbourne-Shamrock Rovers games.

CONCERN

With one club having already pulled out of the league (Monaghan United) and another (Dundalk) admitting to having cash-flow problems, the poor gates could be a concern.

But Stephen McGuinness, general sectary of players' union, the PFAI, hopes that no more clubs will go to the wall despite the drop in gates.

"We are all worried and the negative publicity from the Monaghan case doesn't help," McGuinness told the Herald. "The more the gates drop, the more there is a potential for players to not get paid, but I hope we can get through this without any repeats of the Monaghan case.

"You can only hope that clubs have worked out their budgets properly and are not just going on gates from week to week.

"I was at Pats-Bohs last week and it was a small attendance, given what you'd expect from a Dublin derby.

"Gates do seem to be down at the moment but I'd hope that it's only a temporary thing. In June you have a lot of people on holiday, some people may have been away in Poland at the Ireland games and haven't yet got the appetite to go back to matches.

"You lose a bit of momentum with the mid-season break but once people get used to going to matches again, and maybe with a bit of a lift from the matches in the Champions League and Europa League, the gates might go up again.

"Players are not stupid, they look around the grounds and see that the crowds are just not there at the moment, but they also hope that clubs are not gearing everything towards gate receipts, that the clubs have other commercial income," added McGuinness, who points out that Limerick FC are not heavily reliant on gate receipts for this season as they have some serious financial backing from an investor.

"UCD did have a small gate for their game last week but that's not a worry as UCD as a club are not reliant on gates, they have a more solid financial plan," added McGuinness.

The union have been busy this month in trying to find other clubs for the players who are now unemployed due to Monaghan's shock decision to quit the league mid-season.

Three have already moved to Drogheda United while players like Keith Quinn (to Sligo) and Will McDonagh (to Longford) could move this week but others have been left club-less.

"The big problem overall now is that players have nowhere to go if things don't work out for them," added McGuinness.

"It's not like five years ago when you had a lot of clubs who were willing to bring in players and pay them a wage."

CONVINCE

But McGuinness, a former St Pats, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers player, admits that the league faces a major challenge to convince young players that the LOI is a career option.

"We have done a survey of young players, both in the international underage teams and the DDSL, and the feedback is that they don't see the League of Ireland as an aspiration, something you want to play in," he says.

"Their feeling is that if you are playing in the League of Ireland, then you have failed, and we have to try and change that mentality."

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