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Louis Kilcoyne

Sean Ryan recalls a visionary champion of Irish soccer at a time when it was under-appreciated; a man who put the League of Ireland on a global stage

TO regard the sale of Glenmalure Park as the defining moment of Louis Kilcoyne's career in Irish soccer would be unfair to a man who brought enthusiasm, innovation and vision to the League of Ireland at a time when it was dead on its feet, a victim of ITV's Big Match, which clashed with the league's Sunday afternoon kick-offs.

Louis will be fondly remembered by most fans of the domestic game, apart from the Keep Rovers at Milltown (Kram) minority, who carried a vendetta against him and the Kilcoyne family over the sale of the Milltown grounds -- and who seem keen to continue that vendetta into the grave.

The facts are that the contribution of Louis and his family to Shamrock Rovers in the Seventies and Eighties was greater than that of the fans. Louis saw to it that the best managers were appointed and the best players were signed, and eventually the success, which had eluded the club for some years, returned. However, the more successful the club became, the more the crowds dwindled at Milltown.

The decision to sell was based on the principle that, in a declining market, the business was unsustainable. The Kilcoynes had given it their best shot, but the customers weren't there to support them.

Louis's background was in the hotel business. He was banqueting manager in the Gresham Hotel when his family took over Rovers and he was installed as chief executive. He had been on Bohemians's books and played for Pioneers for a number of seasons as a clever inside-forward.

He brought new ideas to Rovers, and opened up the world to the league's players as an organiser of end-of-season tours. Most famously, he organised the league to play World Cup holders Argentina, who included a young Maradona, in Buenos Aires in 1980. The league weren't disgraced when they went down 1-0, with Maradona on target.

The previous year, there was a trip to the Far East, with games against Malaysia and Singapore, when Liverpool centre-back Larry Lloyd mysteriously turned out for the league and scored twice in a 4-1 win in Singapore's National Stadium.

Louis's biggest coup was the game between an All-Ireland XI and World Cup holders Brazil in Lansdowne Road in 1973. It was a marvellous achievement to pull that off at a time of heightened North-South tensions and despite the opposition of the IFA. He succeeded with the help of his brother-in-law John Giles -- Louis was married to Pauline, John's younger sister -- and Derek Dougan, while his friendship with Fifa chief Joao Havelange secured opponents Brazil.

After he left Rovers, Louis retained his place on the FAI Council as Cork City's delegate. In 1990, he was one of the FAI officials, based in Rome's Sheraton Hotel, busy snapping up tickets on behalf of the fans for the World Cup quarter-final tie with Italy.

His FAI presidency began in 1994 -- and ended on the famous 'night of the long knives' in the Westbury Hotel in 1996. A number of executives were removed that night, including treasurer Joe Delaney, father of current FAI CEO John Delaney, amid allegations of financial losses from ticket sales at the 1990 and 1994 World Cup finals.

Louis retained his influence within the game and was appointed FAI representative on the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), and later a life vice-president of the FAI. When he became vice-president of the OCI, he jokingly referred to it as "the best gig in town", entailing as it did a fair bit of globetrotting in the name of sport.

Louis is survived by his children Giles and Jane, from his marriage to Pauline, and by his second wife Terese.

Sunday Independent