On the scoresheet on a Friday and the dole on a Monday.
That’s the reality of life for the majority of professional footballers in Ireland, even heading into a 2022 season when certain clubs are willing to spend big on hiring players and managers.
It’s been the busiest off-season in the league for some time, with four of the ten Premier Division teams for next term changing manager.
There is money within the game as players like Jack Byrne, Chris Forrester and Patrick McEleney have all signed long-term deals; others like Dan Cleary and Georgie Kelly have offers at home and abroad. But it’s also a lonely life, as evidenced at FAI HQ last night, where some of the out-of-contract players began a training camp arranged by their union (PFAI) to allow them to stay in shape and showcase their talents to managers on the hunt for new players.
At their annual awards last Friday, PFAI chairman Brendan Clarke, currently a player with Shelbourne, revealed an alarming statistic. At the end of the season, 75pc of players in the country were out of contract, and thus, out of work, with many either applying for social welfare or else taking on part-time jobs outside of football until the season resumes in January.
“As everyone knows, it’s mainly one-year contracts in this country and it’s performance-based whether you get a contract for next year,” says striker Dinny Corcoran, released by Drogheda United last month.
“In my situation where I’d not played that much, it’s tough to get a contract; the teams higher up in the league have more money and can afford two-year contracts, but too many of us are on year-to-year contracts, which is a shame.”
Corcoran (32) has been in the league for 14 seasons, so he understands how the game works, but he also knows the pressures of trying to retain a professional status when long-term deals, or even a 52-week contract, are hard to find.
“It’s tough. It’s the uncertainty that’s the hardest thing,” says Corcoran, eager to play next term after a 2021 season ruined by injury.
“A lot of clubs have players who are out of contract and the players have no idea what they are doing; they still have bills to pay and families to feed. I went through that, going into social welfare to sign on the day after the season ended. I’m working now, so I’m not signing on, but I know a lot of players who are.
“It needs to be looked at. You put in so much effort over the season, travel around the country and train hard, and the day after the season finishes, you are a nobody.
“You need a job in the off-season, but if you want to go back to football in January, you can’t really commit to a job. It’s not ideal. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s not nice for a player to be in that situation every year.”