A day to cel­e­brate do­mes­tic foot­ball

Wicklow People (Arklow) - - SPORT -

ON SUN­DAY I had the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy one of those rare oc­ca­sions when I could sit back, re­lax and watch some live sport, with­out hav­ing to fran­ti­cally take notes while the ac­tion un­folds be­fore me.

I had the plea­sure of at­tend­ing the cup fi­nals in the Aviva Sta­dium and thor­oughly en­joyed the con­tests as Wex­ford Youths Women and Dun­dalk de­servedly claimed the big prizes on of­fer.

The show­piece day of our do­mes­tic sea­son is a won­der­ful oc­ca­sion full of colour, but the head-scratch­ing fact re­mains that if you walked into any pub­lic house on Sun­day af­ter­noon, per­haps with the ex­cep­tion of the home towns of the clubs in­volved, you’d find wall-to-wall Pre­mier League cov­er­age beam­ing from their mul­ti­ple tele­vi­sion sets.

The sad re­al­ity is that pub­li­cans are only of­fer­ing what the pun­ters want – the ma­jor­ity would rather watch some pretty in­con­se­quen­tial early sea­son Pre­mier League tie than the big­gest matches in our do­mes­tic foot­ball cal­en­dar.

League of Ire­land foot­ball just doesn’t seem to res­onate with the wider pub­lic even on its big­gest day, not that that mat­ters one jot to the 30-odd thou­sand that made the pil­grim­age to the Aviva Sta­dium.

The day be­gan in pleas­ing fash­ion, with plenty of skill and pas­sion in the women’s fi­nal, and there was a bit of con­tro­versy thrown in for good mea­sure as the all-con­quer­ing Wex­ford Youths got the bet­ter of ri­vals Peamount United.

The men’s game, which again pit­ted old foes Dun­dalk and Cork City against each other, was also an ab­sorb­ing con­test be­tween two sides with an ever-grow­ing ri­valry and was cer­tainly a far more in­ter­est­ing watch than a lot of dross that is served up in the Pre­mier League of a weekly ba­sis.

Flares may have made the pitch fog­gier than an Ir­ish pub in the 1990s when the smok­ing ban was un­thought of, but de­spite the haze, the gen­uine pas­sion was there for all to see as ri­vals that have an ob­vi­ous dis­like for each other wres­tled for supremacy.

Dun­dalk de­servedly wrapped up the dou­ble to round off what was a thor­oughly en­joy­able day in the Aviva, but un­for­tu­nately there’s many that won’t open their minds to the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing en­ter­tained by do­mes­tic foot­ball, com­plain­ing that the qual­ity isn’t there in com­par­i­son to ‘proper’ leagues.

Of course, it goes with­out say­ing that we don’t have the same cal­i­bre of player ply­ing their trade in this coun­try as across the wa­ter, but there’s al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity that when the league pro­duces the next Roy Keane or Kevin Doyle, you’ll be able to boast that you saw him when he was a young whip­per­snap­per lin­ing out against Athlone Town.

Any­way as much as me, or any­body else, tries to big up the do­mes­tic game, the ma­jor­ity will al­ways refuse to give it a chance, al­though the hard­core that are pas­sion­ate about the League of Ire­land go some way to mak­ing up for the general dis­in­ter­est.

The FAI did their bit by di­rect­ing that no lo­cal soc­cer was played the length and breadth of the coun­try on Sun­day, but it’s doubt­ful that too many used their free day to make the trip to the Aviva.

Golf courses around the coun­try were prob­a­bly a bit busier than usual on Sun­day morn­ing be­fore play­ers headed to the nine­teenth hole to watch Chelsea ver­sus Crys­tal Palace.

I, on the other hand, took full ad­van­tage of the di­rec­tive from the rul­ing body and a day free from the te­dious task of com­pil­ing Ju­nior soc­cer round-ups meant I could make a week­end of it in the big schmoke and trav­elled up a day early.

As it turned out, my­self and the clan hap­pened to be stay­ing in the same ho­tel as Cork City so the cup fi­nal day buzz be­gan early.

It was heart-warm­ing to see young­sters from the Rebel county beam­ing with joy as they were lucky enough to be able to come face to face with their he­roes on the eve of the big game. For them, get­ting their pic­ture taken with Kieran Sadlier or Mark McNulty is no less ex­cit­ing than meet­ing Lionel Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, the only dif­fer­ence be­ing that they’re far more ac­ces­si­ble.

That’s the beauty of the Con­ti­nen­tal Tyres Women’s Na­tional League and the SSE Air­tric­ity League; fans can cheer on their team from the stands and then chat with the play­ers after the game.

It’s bril­liant for chil­dren to look up to and ad­mire play­ers that are not just posters on their bed­room walls.

I sup­pose the moral of the story is, why fawn over multi-mil­lion­aire, out of touch su­per­stars, when there’s lo­cal he­roes much more de­serv­ing of your ad­mi­ra­tion?

That and don’t stay in the same ho­tel as yours truly be­fore a big game. I’m a real blight.

Pa­trick McEleney (right) and Chris Shields of Dun­dalk cel­e­brate at the fi­nal whis­tle.

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