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A gang of grumps on a bus down the country? It's League of Ireland time

It's only the first week of March but there's definitely a change in the air.

All across town there's paddywhackery paraphernalia available ahead of St Patrick's Day, in outlets like Tatty McCrap's House of Crap & Tat and suchlike.

Already a cabbie has used the phrase 'you can notice the stretch in the evenings alright' and several papers have run pictures of lovely lickle lambsies (mmm ... tasty chops in a month's time) gambolling across fields in Wicklow.

But for me the sure sign that the wet, miserable winter is on the way out came on Tuesday when my 2014 season ticket for Shamrock Rovers popped through the letter box. Ah yes, live football is back.

The Airtricity League of Ireland has the longest close season of any European league, with no football played from the end of October to the beginning of March.

This can lead to a certain level of cabin fever among supporters but you'd have to say we got lucky this year, as had the old August-to-May schedule been in place then God only knows what attendances and the pitches would have been like as the country was practically submerged for the first two months of this year.

Anyway, the battle for the 2014 title starts this weekend and, as usual, the eternal optimism of most fans will be at a high for, oh, at least a fortnight.

GRUMPS

Quite apart from what happens on the field, the social aspect of a group of like-minded grumps and malcontents getting together is not to be underestimated, particularly on trips down the country.

Away-days, even to clubs who seem to go out of their way to make life as difficult as possible for travelling fans can frequently be more entertaining than the football itself and the sound of a can of Prazsky being opened just isn't the same in Dublin as on a coach heading to Derry, Sligo, Cork or Limerick.

RTE's decision to cancel the highlights show MNS and incorporate League of Ireland coverage into a late-night football programme, Soccer Republic (they probably had to use the dreaded 's' word to keep the Gaah lobby in Montrose happy), drew some flak. But as MNS frequently clashed with actual matches a later time actually makes more sense.

Give it a chance – if it encourages even a few thousand people to pay their money to watch a few live games over the course of the season then it'll have more than served its purpose.

Let battle commence.


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