A day to celebrate domestic football
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.
Cian Redmond and his dad Jason.