League of Ireland can’t stand still on crowd numbers, insists Stephen Bradley

Conor Carty, left, and Eoin Doyle of St Patrick's Athletic react after a missed goal last Friday against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium. The Hoops' home venue is due to open a fourth stand tgis year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Seán O'Connor

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley has commended the high attendances seen across the League of Ireland in the opening weeks of the season, but insists clubs should not rest on their laurels and strive to get more fans through the turnstiles.

Last Friday’s Dublin derby between the Hoops and St Patrick’s Athletic attracted 7,674 supporters to Tallaght Stadium, the highest attendance at the Dublin 24 venue so far in 2023.

Other grounds across the country have also staged sold-out clashes over the opening six rounds, including Dalymount Park, Turner’s Cross and Richmond Park.

Future Ticketing, who work with the majority of League of Ireland clubs, also predict gate receipts to increase by 15 to 20pc this season and while Bradley is pleased with the high attendances, he says club’s must continue to strive for more.

“When we came in (2016), we were getting a 1200 to 1500 average (attendance). Now we are up to nearly 8,000,” said the Hoops boss, after his side’s 2-2 draw on St Patrick’s Day.

“You look at our home crowds, they are up there with some Championship teams and bigger than a lot of League One teams. We need to understand that it’s nice, but we can’t stand still. We have to keep engaging with our community, the fans, the schools and make sure when we open the new (north) stand (in July), we get 10,000 regularly. That has to be the aim.

“The product as a whole becomes better because of the crowds. In Tallaght there is an atmosphere you’d get in any ground across Europe and that’s what you want. I think people are definitely taking note. It’s fantastic to see and long may it continue.”

With redevelopment underway at Tallaght Stadium, Dalymount Park and the Showgrounds, Bradley also called for every League of Ireland to be granted funding to improve facilities.

“The product on the pitch is really good, I’ve said it for a long time,” added the 38-year-old.

“We know what we need to improve, it’s obvious. We are trying to get there and get the funds to improve that for every club, I think the product on the pitch is definitely there and it’s helping we are getting the crowds in to see that.”

Rovers midfielder Gary O’Neill admits playing in front of larger crowds makes players raise their levels, and believes their winless start to 2023 will be put to bed soon.

“It just gives you a bit more, you probably feel a bit more professional when you’re playing in front of 7,000 in a packed out Tallaght on a great surface,” said the Kerry native.

“It's a bit more demoralising when you come and there are empty seats, it’s harder to get going. To see the sold out signs up again in a 5pm game on St Patrick’s Day. It’s unbelievable. Long may it continue."

“The fans are always good with us, it’s probably hard for them to see this at the minute,” he added, with the champions winless in six.

“I’m sure they’re hurting with us but we all have to stick together. It’s a tough run but I’m sure we’ll come out the other side.”