The bright side of sport: Quality League of Ireland deserves more coverage

The League of Ireland is improving year on year and Steve Neville thinks it deserves to be seen by more people.

The bright side of sport: Quality League of Ireland deserves more coverage

Sitting in Turners Cross last Friday night waiting for Cork City and Sligo Rovers to emerge, three fans discussed Cork City’s recent form.

“If we’d beaten Dundalk I’d have travelled to Dublin for the Bohs game. But they were rubbish against Dundalk. Caulfield got it wrong”

City went on to beat Sligo 3-2 that night in a superb game of football. Karl Sheppard put City in front straight from the kick off, the trio instantly praising him and John Caulfield’s ‘approach’.

Caulfield wasn’t getting it wrong last Friday.

20 minutes later a missed penalty by Sheppard was rectified by the striker adding his second but Sligo reduced the lead by one before the break following a magnificent Steven Beattie run to leave John Russell with a tap in.

Throughout City passed the ball well, maintaining possession with Sheppard and Gavin Holohan providing a spark.

“It’s like watching Madrid," one of the trio announced proudly.

When Sligo levelled the game the ‘approach’ was called into question.  The alleged Madrid stylings were no longer acceptable with City passing it around the back, patiently waiting to exploit a gap in the Sligo defence. The trio's groans at the ball being played back to Dan Murray or Mark McNulty were being echoed around the stadium.

Then Mark O’Sullivan knocked home a late winner and the trio were praising Caulfield and City for sticking with it. Madrid was back at the Cross.

The near 3,000 people went home happy that their club had won. But imagine how many more would have enjoyed such a fine game if it had been on TV?

The League of Ireland is continually improving year on year. Last season saw one of the most exciting finishes to a season the League has ever seen. Dundalk and Cork City were left to fight it out for the chance to be crowned Champions on the season's final day at a sold out Oriel Park.

Dundalk would claim the title with a 2-0 win over City in a game that had sports fans across the nation talking in glowing terms about the country’s domestic league.

READ MORE: The bright side of sport: Bournemouth put the beauty back in the beautiful game

But imagine if that excitement had continued through to the start of the current season. Many people feverishly support their local club, but ask any number of those fans who they support and they will answer with Man United or Liverpool.

Rarely do you hear the answer being Derry City or Bohs.

For many years we have seen stars leave the Irish teams for England and reach real highs. Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Seamus Coleman and James McClean have all become household names here and across the water.

But over the last few seasons a number of international players have made a return to domestic clubs. These players have reached the top of the game. Ex-internationals galore.

Colin Healy returned to Cork City in 2007 for a spell and again in 2012. The quality this type of player brings adds value to the league. Whether you think he is past it or not, this type of player has had a professional career with the likes of Celtic, Sunderland and Ireland. He can offer a wealth of experience to the rest of the players playing with or against him.

Cork City recently beat Drogheda 4-1

City fans will all be found smiling when you mention  that overhead kick at the Shed End last season.

Last season saw Keith Fahey return to St Patricks Athletic. Another international player and an English League Cup winner from his time at Birmingham. Fahey of course played for Pats before moving to Birmingham and was a key player in their European runs but has more recently helped them win the FAI Cup.

Now at Shamrock Rovers he is joined by another ex-international. Stephen McPhail had career highs with Leeds United and Cardiff City and has since returned to the League of Ireland.

Stephen McPhail (r) with Ireland captain Robbie Keane

And then of course Liam Miller has joined Cork City. His career saw him play for Celtic, Man United and Sunderland. He’s won a Scottish League title from his time in Glasgow, a Championship title with the Black Cats and an Australian Championship from his time down under.

This sort of talent should be capitalised upon. Having seen the quality these players still possess, seeing them live is a thrill too few people get to witness.

And then you have people who have become stars within the League, showing up the high profile imports.

Richie Towell has become arguably the best player in the country. After two years with Celtic the 23-year-old signed for Dundalk and has been nothing short of a revelation.  A crucial member of Dundalk’s title winning team last year and this season he seems to be even more important and more impressive.

Richie Towell has emerged as one of the league’s best players

His team have only played 12 games and already he has netted 10 goals from midfield.

With an ever improving League why can’t we see ever improving coverage? Yes we have Soccer Republic on RTÉ but it’s shoved down the TV listings appearing at 11.05pm.

Imagine settling down on a Friday night and tuning into a live game of football every week? If more games are shown live, people start to see more of the League and get more involved in it.

There is already a loyal fan base in the League. But with better TV coverage it could have a great fan base.

And perhaps the next time a trio of fans admire a team they'll say it's a bit like watching Dundalk.

READ MORE: The bright side of sport: Bournemouth put the beauty back in the beautiful game

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