Can Irish Soccer Learn Any Lessons From The All-Conquering Domestic Rugby Scene?

Another great day for Irish rugby, as Leinster and Munster triumph and secure in the process a return of an Irish province to the Heineken Cup final next month. The success story that is Irish rugby continues to contrast somewhat to the fortunes of Irish football teams- at international level (most recently) but consistently at club level. The Setanta Cup seems to have grabbed the attention of a wider football audience than would usually be the case for local soccer. David Jeffrey is certainly on record as suggesting that the competition might pave the way for an all-Ireland league sometime in the future.Do the fans of local teams across the island believe a unified league- or even increased all-Ireland cup competitions (like these from many moons ago)- would be a positive step for the game, or simply a pipe dream?

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    The last place goes to Sale or San Sebastian, but don’t forget London Irish who play Bayonne tomorrow at three o’clock at the Madejski Stadium in Reading. If you’re in England and only half thinking about going to the junior European competition, book your ticket and see ‘the Exiles’ into the semis of the European Challenge Cup.

  • Pete Baker

    You mean the all-conquering English game of rugby?


  • I think a united League would be a good thing.

    The reason for munsters success in particular is the largeness of it. It is the entire province and thus draws support from every small village in Munster. Soccer would need to do the same thing. Tribalsim is strong in Ireland and based around location and usually county. Maybe soccer needs to go down does line perphaps with clubs merging. Maybe 1 Belfast club 1 Dublin club 1 Munster club etc. It would be a small league but probabbly a lot more supported. Could even make a soccer version of the celtic league.

    But that is probably a pipe dream

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Niall Quinn has doubts. Not about desireability, but the practicality of the very scenario you outline:

    Most people look at it from the point of view that wouldn’t it be great to have the best of both teams. They look at the extra pool they could pick younger players from. But nobody looks at it from the other angle. Of the IFA and the FAI, half of them are going to lose their jobs so there’s fifty per cent already voting the other way. While the system is the way it is it won’t happen.

    He goes on to say that what’s missing is the human contact, or lack of familiarity of each other.

  • Young Fogey

    That was an awsome 15-man performance by Leinster and I for one would never have believed they could not only beat Toulouse away but do it with such class.

    If they play like that they will crush Munster in the semis. Leinster v Biarritz in the final? Sounds good to me especially if they can then take Serge Blanco and his home team down a peg or two.

    Frankly, it also shows up how pedestrian and dull the much vaunted Guiness Premiership is. Could you see two English sides of that quality serving up a rugby feast like that?

  • Rory

    Oh, what’s all the fuss about? At the end of the day it’s only rugby after all. It’s not as if it’s popular, or likely to be.

    Indeed it was the very popularity of soccer that demanded that there be no unified league after partitition. Couldn’t have the proles mixing on the sporting field now could we? All right for the middle classes, they knew how to “play the game”. Now that it might suit the purpose for there to be an all-Ireland association in soccer the historical conditions rise and threaten that possibility.

  • “Couldn’t have the proles mixing on the sporting field now could we?”

    Rory, please check your facts before peddling a load of tosh about sectarianism in football causing the split into two leagues. The split came because the Dublin clubs took the hump at the Belfast-based IFA playing cup finals etc in Belfast rather than Dublin (I mean the cheek of playing the games in and around the part of the country where most of the clubs were based!) so they set up their own league and formed the FAIFS (later FAI), forever partitioning football on this island.

    “Now that it might suit the purpose for there to be an all-Ireland association in soccer the historical conditions rise and threaten that possibility.”

    I’m not sure which purpose it suits for there to be an all-Ireland association, certainly not mine or most other Northern Ireland fans.

  • Realist

    “David Jeffrey is certainly on record as suggesting that the competition might pave the way for an all-Ireland league sometime in the future.”

    Is he?

    He would be out of kilter with the publicly stated view of the football club he manages then.

    I’m all for the expansion of the cross border cup competition.

    Providing the autonomy of the two football associations on the island is rubber stamped, I would be pretty much up for anything that enhances the game at club level on the island.

    PS: Attendances at the majority of Setanta games to date have been extremely disappointing.

    At a recent setanta Cup game at the Oval between Glentoran and Linfield, the attendance was approx a third of what would be expected at an Irish League fixture between the two clubs.

    Shelbourne brought less than 150 fans to a recent “big” game at Windsor Park.

    The “historical” fixture between Glentoran and Derry City at the Oval attracted less than 1,500 fans.

  • Yokel

    Sport & politics..try not to mix them.

    If the two football league jursidictions exist leave it there, if one rugby jurisdiction exists..leave it there and so forth.

    There are always those who see sport as a sectarian football (boom! boom!) and it would do well for those who don’t see it as such to leave them as they are structured and instead challenge the those who see at as way of reinforcing their identity in sectarian terms. Any changes will be seen in sectarian terms by many, surprisingly many people, so its better not to give them the opportunity. Realist has it spot on when they poiuint to the importance of rubber stamping the pre-eminence of each jurisdiction, the Setanta Cup offers no such challenge and thus is a safe vehicle. Anything more radical its going to cause issue that are not worth bringing up.

    By the way one reason why an all Ireland league or similar be an issue..economics. It’s got to pull in more revenue for the increased costs for clubs to compete (travel, player salaries etc)and I’m not sure it would.

  • Ignore the politics of an all-Ireland league, the two questions are would it improve playing standards and as Yokel says improve the financial situation of the clubs.

    The answer to both questions at the minute has got to be “no” and the obvious political considerations shouldn’t be allowed to cloud over this fact.

    The Setanta concept has been a good one, but after the initial surge in interest as Realist says crowds attending have been nothing special. But it has allowed fans to travel to new grounds and environments and on a small scale meet up with fans of different backgrounds. For that last reason alone hopefully it will continue.

  • George

    An all-Ireland league means half the European competition places and half the number of FAI and IFA blazers (these turkeys won’t vote for Christmas) so it would have to be a certain financial winner to have any chance of succeeding.

    (I don’t know if it is possible to have an all-Ireland league while retaining two Irish international teams.)

    The problem is that both the Irish League and the Eircom league don’t seem capable of drawing in big crowds on a regular basis.

    The Eircom League is in a slightly better position due to better sponsorship, effective administration and enhanced television coverage. Probably gets more government cash too.

    There was a peak of 285,000 veiwers for last season’s FAI Cup final while 355,000 tuned in for the final Eircom League game of the season between Cork City and Derry City. Attendances were up 6% in 2005 taking all competitions.

    While TV figures are up, there are still huge problems. Shelbourne, for example, are spending money hand over fist and are in deep trouble with the Revenue Commissioners.

    Attendances in both leagues are still very disappointing but there were 4,000 on hand to see Derry play Linfield.

    Cork City get over 5,000 to many of their games and while the numbers aren’t huge I think Cork-Linfield would always be more attractive than say Cork-Finn Harps.

    It would also increase sponsorship and television figures further in the long run.

    Does anyone know the viewing figures for the Setanta Cup?

    P.S. It could also be that if a southern team doesn’t win it, the figures could drop.

  • A Sunday afternoon muse on this (while basking in being from Munster, by the grace of God and all that, notwithstanding the fact that the Leinster goys were, like, awesome, roysh…)

    Warning: gross oversimplifications and sweeping comments on the way 🙂

    Rugby is an elitist protestant fee-paying school game, soccer is a proletarian rabble game. The unification of the island in competing in International rugby is based in the common interests of the protestant elite, who saw no political issue with representing common sporting interests in a manner that made sense. It has never been compromised by the sectarianism of the last hundred years, and was able to survive ‘above’ the political. Even in the apartheid thing, a concerted effort was made to ignore the political, and remain steadfastly separate from the political.

    Someone must have written a book on this somewhere, but surely if this steadfast ignorance of politics were replicable across other areas of common interest, our atavistic cycle could be broken. Sport is a starting point, and soccer seems a logical one. Golf already has representatives from North and South on Dunhill Cup teams (I think Darren Clarke played with Paul McGinley one year – I stand to be corrected – and David Feherty with Philip Walton?) but that again is protestant / elitist. Is cricket all-island? Are there any other sports that do this?

    I’ll tell you what, if the FAI/IFA merger was politically driven, and appropriately funded, it would be difficult to stop. Maybe a few people are looking at losing their jobs, but that could be avoided by political subvention – keep everyone in the jobs, move people around, would only cost a few million per annum, which is a very small price to pay if it is part of a peace strategy. It would also be much easier for the GAA to let other matches be played in Croke Park, a stadium for the entire island to be proud of!

  • IJP

    Such debates always become ‘sectarianized’.

    The idea for an all-Ireland league would be better coming from a non-Nationalist, i.e. someone obviously not making a political point of it.

    There are problems concerning availability of European places, a subsequent push for an all-Ireland team, and potential models for similar all-island leagues not too far away (Celtic and Rangers for the Premiership… and Hearts, judging by today’s performance…)

    It is quite obvious to me that the Irish League cannot meaningfully survive as it is. But the above are significant problems which will not be overcome without a united vision among fans about what we’re doing and why. Furthermore, just because the Irish League cannot meaningfully survive as is does not mean an all-Ireland League is necessarily the answer – how about summer football? winter breaks with inter-club/inter-county five-a-side tourneys at the Odyssey? a franchise-based league?

    I suspect an all-Ireland League *is* an answer in this case (or, more obviously, an all-‘Celtic’ League a la rugby), but we need an adult debate – and the chances of that are pretty limited.

  • norman

    “how about summer football”

    Can’t see it, the vast majority of football supporters in the north are from the unionist community.

    Many unionists enjoy marching around the place during july and august, doubt if it would be popular with those supporters and clubs.

    David Jeffrey, the linfield maager, for example, is an active member of the orange order – how could he manage the team if he had to march with his lodge on some saturday in july ?

  • páid

    great post IJP; the whole question is just too loaded with politics. Let us take quiet pleasure that clubs from different backgrounds are playing each other and no serious sectarian incidents.

  • Realist

    “David Jeffrey, the linfield maager, for example, is an active member of the orange order – how could he manage the team if he had to march with his lodge on some saturday in july ?”

    Follow the example of the Eirecom league…play matches on a Friday evening?

  • Mark

    Summer football and winter breaks are not the way forward, half the point of the game is that you need to be equally able to play on the pristine turf on a sunny August day, in an autumn downpour, through the January snow and on a muddy pitch with barely a blade of grass on it come March or April. Friday evening matches certainly seem to work for Ulster and seem to be popular with some First Division sides too, so that could be worth a try, although it should be pointed out that Ulster have the major advantage of a bar.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Maybe, Mark, but I’ve noticed in the LOI that the quality of football is noticeably better in summer compared to say, January and the ball players have more of an influence on games. The non-diehards are more likely to attend on a warmer day as well.

    Going back to David Jeffrey, I read somewhere he has major objections to playing matches on Sundays for religious reasons – would a lot of Irish League people have a similiar opinion? Would that be a stumbling block for an A-I league?

  • Realist

    “Going back to David Jeffrey, I read somewhere he has major objections to playing matches on Sundays for religious reasons – would a lot of Irish League people have a similiar opinion? Would that be a stumbling block for an A-I league?”

    Tochais Siorai,

    Where did you read this…I find it most interesting?

    When it comes to matters relgious, “Big Daisy” is something of an enigma.

    There are no games on a Sunday in the Irish League – the IFA have a stupid rule prohibiting games on a Sunday, although it is sure to go in the near future.

    It should be all about giving clubs choice.

  • IJP


    Like I say, the Irish League cannot meaningfully survive as it is.

    While not perfect, summer football is one way around it. It’s worked down South, and it’s worked for Rugby League in Great Britain (and now France!)

    I respect your reasoning against summer football, but in the interests of debate it is then up to you to come up with some better ideas…

  • Tochais Siorai

    Realist, I don’t remember where I read it (Can’t remember my own name half the time never mind old newspaper articles) but I thought it odd because he’d never struck me as being a christian fundie. Maybe he was winding the journalist up a wee bit. I agree the Sunday rule is silly, should be up to the home club to decide match time.

  • Realist


    “should be up to the home club to decide match time”

    Better still that the two clubs involved agree it.

    Different locations, different challenges.

    Eg, Newry City may not wish to play on a Sunday if there is a big Down GAA fixture going on.

  • “should be up to the home club to decide match time. “

    TS – I’m an atheist who doesn’t like religion interfering in my life but I don’t think I agree with this. Aside from anything else it would raise potential for a less-religious team to insist on playing on a Sunday so that a team with a number of very religious players would be weakened.

    I agree that football matches should be permitted on a Sunday but I’m not sure who to reconcile that with the above scenario. In my perfect world I’d tell them to wise up (or don’t accept payment for Sunday games 😉 ) but I’m not King of the world yet so that will have to wait.

    Not sure how this was dealt with across the water, or whether it was less of an issue if they didn’t have the number of very religious people we seem to have here.

  • “Better still that the two clubs involved agree it. “

    My preferred answer too, but what do you do if they can’t agree? People in this little country generally seem to have a lot of trouble with agreeing.

  • Realist

    “My preferred answer too, but what do you do if they can’t agree?”


    Home club decides then.

    The current ban denies choice. It is therefore completely wrong.

  • Fintan, Portlaoise

    To be honest, I’m not all that interested in “garrison games”. For me nothing compares to a good game of hurling or Gaelic football, but times are changing, Ireland is becoming more culturally diverse and pluralistic, and I congratulate the rugby people on their recent success. Soccer could benefit from uniting forces as well. A few years ago I read a book by Derek Dougan, whom I happen to have met and consider to be a real gentleman and Mensch. The book was called, if I remember right, “The Sash I Never Wore” and in it he makes a case for an all-Ireland soccer team a lot netter than I ever could. I recommend the book to everyone.