Sunday 19 May 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Weak links holding back the Irish game need to be rooted out and left behind'

Limerick FC owner Pat O’Sullivan. Photo: Sportsfile
Limerick FC owner Pat O’Sullivan. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

If Tuesday's Dublin derby in Tallaght opened a window to what is possible for Irish football, subsequent developments have highlighted how persistent dysfunction can shut down optimism.

Headlines generated by betting stories and payment issues cement a negative perception that must be shaken as part of any new dawn.

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The sight of more than 6,400 people turning up at a modern stadium for the showdown between Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians was heartening.

All of the incidents took place on the pitch, with the intense rivalry a selling point to the floating consumer.

The atmosphere at these matches would compare favourably with most Irish sporting occasions; the edge adds something.

And in the backdrop of a troubled month for the game here, it was a welcome antidote to the negativity.

And yet, we are now braced for formal confirmation that last Friday's First Division meeting between Shelbourne and Limerick is being monitored due to irregular betting patterns around the fixture.

It must be stressed that nothing has been proven at this juncture, and there's always the danger that speculation can be misleading.

This is not unfamiliar territory, however.

Speaking generally, innuendo around betting and the League of Ireland is a recurring concern.

Unsurprisingly, the recent tales have centred around low-profile First Division games which are largely played out of the spotlight.

The overall stigma reflects poorly on all aspects of the game here - from top to bottom - and that's why a zero-tolerance attitude is required.

With the broader FAI picture necessitating change, the League of Ireland is at a crossroads and the opportunity to drive in the right direction must be taken.

Those who carry baggage have no place on the road ahead because they are holding the whole show back.

If there is any suspicion of wrongdoing, it is incumbent on players to speak up and point it out. There's a nod-and-wink attitude towards these tales that has to be eradicated.

It's no laughing matter when there is so much at stake.

By coincidence, the last couple of weeks have turned out to be pretty disastrous for the two League of Ireland clubs that came out in support of John Delaney.

Waterford's European dream is dead, and that will place a strain on the Blues.

Limerick's position is even more perilous, with a local group that was interested in a takeover announcing yesterday that they will not be pressing ahead with their plans.

It's fair to say that there were people around Shannonside who were far from convinced about this consortium.

Nevertheless, it would take a leap of faith to believe that Limerick can continue to function while reliant on owner Pat O'Sullivan.

He has consistently made it clear that he needs outside help, yet prospective investors seem to be put off when they come close to a deal.

Donal Magee, the spokesperson for the Limerick investment group, said yesterday that they found the valuation of the club to be "unreasonable" and the terms of engagement "unworkable".

"While we have not ruled out a future interest in the club, we are satisfied that we no longer wish to pursue a takeover of the club at present," he said.

"In light of the weekend revelations that players have not been paid, we feel our time would be better appreciated pursuing other options."

This was the killer detail. If a club is hitting the rocks in terms of payment issues just a third of the way through the season, then serious questions have to be asked about the process that granted them a licence.

The major fear around the scenario in Waterford is borne from the reality that they were given a licence to play in the league on the basis that they would be earning €240,000 in prizemoney from UEFA. Hence, they are exploring legal avenues.

Limerick were a source of concern throughout last term but they managed to make it through to the end of the year, albeit suffering relegation.

O'Sullivan's strong recent backing of Delaney was quite surprising given they had clashed in the past.

In his supportive missive, he said: "John has engaged with league club representatives and tirelessly worked to find a solution and a model for the league to prosper."

That job now lies in the hands of a temporary hierarchy trying to wade through a myriad of issues.

Tuesday was encouraging, and tonight's meeting of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers should again captivate for the right reasons.

There are good coaches, players and administrators within the league, striving to create a brighter future.

Weak links must not be allowed to hold them back.

Irish Independent

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