The sheer contempt in which the League of Ireland is held by those involved at the top of Irish football never ceases to amaze me.
After West Bromwich Albion’s Dean Kiely left the Ireland squad before last week’s friendly against Nigeria (I’ll come back to that later), Kieran Westwood of Coventry City was the only backup to regular goalkeeper Shay Given left. Westwood informed the management of the national team that he was, in fact, getting married on the day of the Bulgaria match next Saturday.
Through their scouting of goalkeepers, Giovanni Trappatoni, Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady decided that next in line were Colin Doyle of Birmingham City and Wayne Henderson of League Two outfit Grimbsy Town. This season, Grimbsby finished just four points clear of relegation out of the Football League, conceding a massive 59 goals. In fairness to him, Henderson (on loan from Preston North End) only played in fourteen matches.
Meanwhile, Colin Doyle may seem like a decent deputy, as Birmingham achieved promotion with the best defensive record in the Championship, conceding just 34 goals. Doyle, however, made just four appearances all season (one of his appearances was from the bench).
Across the sea, in the supposed home of our national team, calls are being made for Brian Murphy of Bohemian FC to get a call-up. Bohemians are the reigning League of Ireland Premier Division champions, and currently top the table with 29 points. This season, in 14 matches, Bohemians have conceded 7 goals. Brian Murphy has played in all of Bohemians’ league matches this season. While I, admittedly, am no great supporter of Bohemians, I can see that Murphy would be a far better than benchwarmer Doyle or nearly-relegated Henderson.
Neither Trappatoni, Tardelli nor Brady have been to a League of Ireland match since they took their jobs with the FAI. Surely there are some players in our national league that would merit more attention than second- and third-rate players based in England. As Kevin Doyle, Noel Hunt and Keith Fahey have all proved recently, players can make the leap from the League of Ireland to a high level of English football relatively easily. Once they do, players can then be considered for the national team. Why can’t the management of the IRISH national team consider IRISH players? Shouldn’t the policy be to play the best players?
The policy of favouritism towards English players was shown recently with the friendly with Nigeria held in Craven Cottage, London (and the subsequent training session was indeed held in Arsenal’s training ground). RTE’s Tony O’Donoghue said last night on Monday Night Soccer that holding the training sessions and matches in England would “definitely [be] an option” in the future. The friendly in Craven Cottage attracted around 10 thousand fans last Friday, a similar figure to the amount present for last year’s friendly against Nottingham Forest held in Dalymount Park. If held in Ireland, a friendly against Nigeria (or any other opposition) would attract great numbers. What about the RDS, home of the FAI Cup final and host to a number of Leinster Rugby matches this season? Shouldn’t the IRISH national team play in a venue which suits its fans, the IRISH people? Although holding friendlies and training sessions in England may seem logical given that all of our players are based in either England or Scotland, surely the FAI should be looking at commercial viability and the service it owes its fans ahead of pandering to players.
The disillusionment felt by many fans after the tenure of Steve Staunton may yet return.