Louts give League a bad name
Should the cross-border soccer competition currently known as the Setanta Sports Cup bite the dust, as seems likely now that the broadcaster has declared its intention to withdraw sponsorship, it will be easy to blame the Shamrock Rovers fans who disgraced themselves, their club and the League of Ireland with their behaviour in Windsor Park on Monday last.
But the truth is that the tournament has been rendered largely meaningless by the fact that the Irish League is so much weaker than the League of Ireland.
The presence of four teams from our league in the semi-finals means that the Setanta Cup has become just another League of Ireland competition, an even poorer version of the EA Sports Cup. Why go on?
Crusaders did give things a shot in the arm with their welcome surprise victory last season which ended a run of five wins on the trot for the League of Ireland. Three of those finals were all-League of Ireland affairs. The Irish League has never managed to qualify more than one team for the semi-finals.
The gulf in class was most evident in this season's quarter-final ties between Sligo Rovers and Glentoran which yielded an 8-0 aggregate win for the reigning League of Ireland champions, and Shamrock Rovers and Linfield which saw the Dubliners win 7-2 over the two legs.
Remember all the rubbish about how the League of Ireland could find salvation by uniting with the Irish League? It often came with a side order of bullshit about the contribution the 'Belfast Giants' could make to this All-Ireland League. Well, we saw the strength of those giants, Linfield and Glentoran, last week. Glentoran, who were apparently going to put numbers on the gate for teams down here, could only muster 100 fans for their home game on Monday night.
The standard of football in the League of Ireland is so far ahead of that in the Irish League that a case can only be made for uniting the leagues on either charitable or political rather than football grounds. That's the lesson of the Setanta Sports Cup.
As for Shamrock Rovers? I'm aware that the vast majority of that great club's fans are decent people but the lack of speed on the part of some of those associated with the club to condemn previous incidents of hooliganism probably increases the likelihood of such behaviour continuing to dog its footsteps. The thugs involved aren't the brightest of people, so anything except the clearest possible public condemnation of their behaviour may leave them with the idea that if it is not condoned, at the very least it is tolerated.
A League of Ireland which has enough detractors out there as it is can't afford any more of the type of bad publicity which followed the Windsor Park fracas. Shamrock Rovers owe it to themselves to weed out this element. But more importantly they owe it to the league as a whole.
This could be a great season. Sligo Rovers, Shamrock Rovers and St Pat's all have powerful squads, Derry City can kick on from last year's FAI Cup triumph, both Limerick and Cork City look like dark horses, while Drogheda United could surprise us all again. The opportunity is there to win new fans, friends and families for League of Ireland soccer.
Don't let it be spoiled by a bunch of assholes.