Last night officially brought down the curtain on the League of Ireland First Division with Drogheda United narrowly losing out 2-1 after extra time in their two-legged Promotion/Relegation Play-off against Finn Harps.
It was a game that many outsides of both clubs would liked to have witnessed on TV. Not that we were expecting it. Mention a First Division club to our National Television Network and you’d probably receive a shrug of the shoulders, a laugh, and a firm rebuff because some of the 47 chefs RTE have broadcasted weekly are more important, and apparently in-line as to what people watch on a Friday night. Our candid choice of programming dictates some guy cooking up a quesadilla in the kitchen is what we tune in for after a week of slaving 9-5 in a job we all hate.
What a load of bollocks.
With the honours and European places already decided in the Premier Division it was a last chance (bar the obvious FAI Cup Final on Sunday) to show what proved to be a pulsating affair between a Harps side, desperate to keep their place in the Premier, and a resurgent Drogheda United who had played near 30 games to clinch that play-off place.
We all knew it would be tight. Some favoured the Louth outfit whilst the Finn Park regulars could look back to a Promotion/Relegation Play-Off record that has seen Harps pull off more magic tricks then Houdini did in a lifetime (well , OK, maybe in a few weeks or so) and so it proved to be. Did anyone think the tie would be over in United Park last Monday? How many put their money on an extra-time, or penalty shoot-out before Friday night?
The Finn Park faithful were always going to turn up, as for Drogheda, they had pulled in 2596 for their recent face-off with Shelbourne which saw the Dubliners win 3-1 and end their six-year stint in the First Division.
Sadly, for many our second-tier football is a wasteland for many. A graveyard for some clubs used to life in the Promised Land but struggling with results and attendances were match reports are mainly restricted to regional newspapers and the odd column in the nationals. Some claim the standard of football possibly should not be covered on a Friday night from the sofa , indeed it would certainly have an effect on attendances (hardcore fans love their footy but Wexford Youths v Cobh Ramblers would be sparse enough with just 250 at one of their trysts this season) but there are surely alternatives.
How hard would it be for 2/3 minutes of highlights from a determined club source, or fan with half decent knowledge of editing, of each of the 5 First Division games on a Friday night, shown the following Monday with post-match reports and a panel on a website that fans can resource? Christ I’m not even asking for it to be put on National Tv. When Soccer Republic ran to its hour long programming the First Division was still limited to a score screen and 30 seconds of a league table, so when that was restricted this year (now, now lads – it’s important RTE highlight Francis Brennan bitching about a fry-up in a Fermanagh bed & breakfast) it banished our second tier soccer completely.
And yes aside from the start and latter stages of the First Division, clubs still struggle to get bodies through the turnstiles but even a small highlights programme (and yes I know there are some great Twitter League of Ireland sites about) but do RTE even think of this as an alternative? I’d love to get an official response (I haven’t received one and don’t expect to) as to why they couldn’t at least cover the Finn Harps/Drogheda United Second Leg on Friday.
I'm sure the recent idea of an All-Ireland League would actually be something that would receive a lot more exposure , though I don't think it's a possible proposal that's going to be accepted anytime soon. How long have we been talking about that now. Both leagues have their own identities which, maybe at the moment, they still want to keep.
And yes we know what sport dictates seemingly blanket coverage on this island so I'm not about to go in on what is the glaring obvious. Even provincial hurling club games seem to pick up coverage on either RTE, RTE2 or TnaG. That will always be the way (mind you even TV coverage of these games doesn't take away from what are always well attended matches.
Maybe it’s a -caught between a rock and a hard place- scenario. Crowds are small and the interested limited outside of the First Division Clubs themselves but to completely ignore it when Soccer Republic was an hour-long programme? Not even ten minutes? Even if RTE were to commit to the Promotion/ Relegation play-off legs, wouldn’t that be a tiny, but maybe significant start? 180+ minutes once a season? Two games over almost eight months endeavour by the First Division teams chasing that Premier Division Golden Ticket?
Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath.