Sunday 25 September 2016

Daniel McDonnell: Exposure for Dundalk is a battle well worth fighting

The angry League of Ireland man should be aggrieved if this story is ignored

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

Dundalk goalscorer Ciaran Kilduff celebrates with manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Dundalk goalscorer Ciaran Kilduff celebrates with manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

The persecution complex of the League of Ireland fan is a consistent talking point in sports media circles.

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It was always there, of course, but the easy access provided by online forms of communication has added the directness of Twitter to the traditional comfort of furious texts to radio stations that are deemed to be ignoring the local game.

A sports broadcaster friend recently said that the depth of complaints from followers of the Airtricity League was only rivalled by offended lovers of Celtic and Liverpool. High praise.

For those of us who are fans of the league, but work in an industry that must feed the huge demand for the Premier League monster, there can be mixed emotions when exposed to the outbursts.

The angry teenager that lingers inside the head remains perplexed by a country where the hardcore fan of their local club is viewed as an oddity comparable with a vegan at a barbecue.

On the flip side, the particularly aggressive method of preaching is never productive, especially as the arguments are the same now as they were three decades ago.

Last Thursday night, a group of Irish hacks in Alkmaar were accosted by a Dundalk supporter. He marked the end of his special evening by going along the line and asking each person their employer, before adding words of abuse or praise dependent on how that organisation covered the domestic sphere.

Irony

During one recent live televised game, a member of the RTE presenting team received a tweet from a supporter chiding them for looking at their phone when the match was going on. The irony was probably lost on the punter that he was concentrating on the TV studio instead of the pitch.

That active search for disrespect achieves nothing.

The unreasonable approach can go both ways, though, and increasingly the rants from the fundamentalist wing are highlighted by those on the receiving end as justification for generalising all League of Ireland regulars as pitchfork-wielding hellraisers. Anecdotes are regaled with the same tone of all-knowing condescension that fuels outrage.

As with any group of fans, the reality is that the silent majority happily go about their business without obsessing too much about whether their attendance entitles them to martyr status.

The fluctuating crowd figures at League of Ireland grounds around the country demonstrate that there are plenty of people who check-in and check-out depending on the circumstances of their life.

Here's the thing, though. There are times when the sense of frustration felt by a vocal minority is completely understandable.

Pardon the self-serving aside, but pretty much every Irish newspaper and broadcast outlet did lead their football news with the Dundalk game last Thursday.

However, in the aftermath of their Alkmaar heroics, numerous tales emerged of curious post-work customers trying unsuccessfully to find pubs showing the fixture because Man United were on the box.

TV3's Tommy Martin tweeted about dropping in to a pub in the IFSC where all six screens were showing the other Europa League match in Holland that night.

That was the pragmatic call. Barmen know their clientele and what they are used to. Nobody should be surprised. It's business.

In the space of a month, Dundalk have done more for the credibility of the league than any marketing campaign trumpeting 'real football, real fans' ever could.

However, it's totally unrealistic to expect people who view 'United' as part of their identity, in tandem with their Irishness, to suddenly tune out from that. They have never known life to be any other way, and never will.

Unfortunately, Dundalk are on the same Europa League cycle as Jose Mourinho's men, which means there will be a clash for the remaining five fixtures.

There are public houses up and down the land which won't screen a single minute of that adventure and it is disappointing that there are places where an extraordinary story will not register.

This is a homegrown team with players from all four provinces competing in the second biggest club competition in European football. Don't let the dismissive Premier League view of it cloud the significance; AZ Alkmaar are a top-four side in Holland and didn't rest a single player.

Stephen Kenny's troops are the lowest ranked side of the 48 qualifiers with a budget that is the equivalent of drink change in the pocket of the top dogs.

Snapped

On top of that, they are embracing the challenge by playing a brand of football which Irish teams are not supposed to be comfortable with.

It should be easy to sell. This isn't the plaintive cry to urge the casual fan to take in Finn Harps-Longford last Friday when they had Chelsea v Liverpool at home.

On September 29, Dundalk host Maccabi Tel Aviv and they expect all tickets to be snapped up, with Tallaght's capacity set to be restricted to 5,500.

It's safe to assume that most one-screen Irish establishments will be showing United's simultaneous encounter with Ukraine's Zorya Luhansk instead.

Attempts by the irate League of Ireland man to change that will be futile, but it really is a crazy world if they're made to feel awkward for questioning it.

Irish Independent

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