Wednesday, August 19, 2009
No future in a place called home
It is a sad reality, yet one that every footballer from Ireland is forced to accept from an early age, that they won't get very far in their career unless they leave their homeland.
There is a long tradition of players crossing the Irish Sea in search of a professional contract with clubs in England and Scotland, and that is something that will continue for a long time to come.
This fact was hammered home recently when Galway United were forced to sell their captain James O'Shea to Birmingham City in order to raise some much-needed funds. The Republic of Ireland U-21 international is the latest big name player to depart the League of Ireland, but he won't be the last.
O'Shea joins a club that took a risk by signing Keith Fahey from St Patrick's Athletic at the beginning of the year and they decided to dip back into the Irish market to see if they could unearth another gem. In O'Shea, they certainly think they have done that.
The former Bray Wanderers youngster had been on trial with the midlands club a few months previously, but failed to win a contract. Yet he was determined to get a second chance because he knew that his fledging career as a footballer could end any day whilst playing in Ireland.
He achieved his dream of playing in the Premier League on the opening weekend when he was brought on as a late substitute in Birmingham's 1-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. He is one of the lucky few who have made it.
While the standard of play in the League of Ireland is quite high and there is an array of quality players plying their trade in it, the opportunity to play for a well-known club across the water is an attraction that few players would turn down.
In order to understand this mindset, one should know that thousands of Irish football fans line up at airports and shuttle onto ferries each week during the Premier League season to spend their cash on going to see teams like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea.
There is nothing wrong with this, but when the same set of fans are willing to pay €40 to see a Liverpool XI side (comprised of reserve team players) take on Bohemians in a meaningless friendly rather than attend League of Ireland matches on a regular basis it becomes very clear that the Irish game does not hold the same sort of attraction to the average football supporter.
Despite Irish clubs doing well in European competition over the past five years, the influx of new fans to the domestic game has not been great. There are many reasons for this and it would be unfair to singularly blame the popularity of the Premier League or Celtic in the SPL - who are the only club to have an official club shop in Dublin.
It is obvious that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) need to do a better job at marketing the domestic league as well as ensuring that each of its clubs are run in a professional way, because the negative headlines generated by certain clubs flirting with extinction have become far too regular.
Then there is the ongoing debate in the Irish media about why Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni continues to ignore the League of Ireland - he has yet to attend a game since taking charge of Ireland back in May 2008.
When quizzed about whether he would ever call up domestic based players for international squads, Trapattoni stated that they 'lacked experience'. And that is a sure sign that players need to move abroad in order to advance further in their careers.
Whether it is Colin Healy joining Ipswich Town or Graham Gartland signing for St Johnstone, Irish players know that it will be tough for them to fulfil their ambitions unless they secure a move to a British club.
The majority of the players in the League of Ireland will be out of contract at the end of the current season (November), so expect a large percentage of them to travel across the Irish Sea in the hope of winning a contact with a British club.
Gareth Maher covers Irish football for ESPN Soccernet. Check out his website www.garethmaher.com to read more of his writing.