Irish getting their job satisfaction in unglamorous Scottish setting
Published 23/07/2011 | 05:00
FOR some, it's the money. For some, it's the lifestyle. Yet, for the vast majority of Irish footballers plying their trade in Scotland, it is simply about making a living.
A new Scottish Premier League season kicks off this weekend with over 20 Irishmen set to feature at some stage in this campaign. They are not living on millionaires row. An average English Premier League contract these days could set a player up for life. An average Scottish Premier League deal offers short-term security. It is a job rather than a retirement plan.
While a player who makes it at Celtic can aim for a contract worth in excess of £10,000 a week, a £1,000-a-week deal is closer to the norm elsewhere, the SPL below the Old Firm which operates at a different level.
Players like Alan Maybury (St Johnstone), Stephen Elliott (Hearts) and even Richie Foran (Inverness) have earned serious money earlier in their careers. The forthright Foran freely admits that he extended a miserable stay at Southend simply because he was on such a good deal; money that he used productively for his long-term future. Now, he lives in Inverness by choice, happier than ever in the Scottish highlands.
Foran did start his career in the League of Ireland, yet his situation contrasts with the likes of Sean Dillon (Dundee United) and Graham Gartland (St Johnstone), who effectively had to move due to the implosion of Shelbourne and Drogheda respectively.
Scotland appealed because of the glamour dates at Parkhead and Ibrox, the better stadiums and the increased profile. But on a very pragmatic level, it has an established professionalism which generally protects footballers from the uncertainty which defined the League of Ireland's flirtation with a full-time existence.
The collapse of Gretna and recent difficulties at Hearts proves that the Scottish game is not immune from crisis, but the waters are far less choppy
For some young Irishman, the SPL has acted as an effective shop window. Look at the case of ex-UCD and Derry striker Conor Sammon who, 12 months ago, was on around £1,200 a week -- a slightly above average wage at Kilmarnock -- following a unremarkable couple of years in Scotland.
Last season, the raw talent began to resemble a finished product, with Sammon banging in a stack of goals before Christmas and subsequently getting snapped up by Wigan. Suddenly, he's collecting £10,000 a week plus some very attainable bonuses. A different world.
Much was expected of Adam Rooney when he was a teenager at Stoke, but the Dubliner lost his way and wound up at Inverness. His rebirth under Terry Butcher earned Rooney a summer switch to Birmingham.
Aaron Doran, who made his Premier League debut for Blackburn at Anfield, but failed to push on, will be looking to take the positives from that example as he prepares to start life at Inverness on a permanent basis after a loan stint. In a similar vein, Darren Randolph is rebuilding his career at Motherwell. So far, so good.
As he waved goodbye to goalkeeper Alan Mannus on Thursday, Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill suggested that he could have offered a higher weekly wage to the St Johnstone bound 29-year-old than his new employers. But the Hoops were unable to compete on a number of counts.
"He is prepared to go there for probably less than what he earns for us," said O'Neill, "But while we operate on a 42-week contract, there is always the risk of losing players in those circumstances.
"The SPL is not a wealthy league, but he sees it as his last chance to break into a full-time set-up. It has a higher profile than our league, and he wants to develop his profile."
Most of those listed could walk through Irish streets unnoticed. Quite a few would have little trouble going about their business in Scotland either.
Glamorous it isn't. Instead, it's about getting by and, for the optimists, keeping the dream alive.