This time last year football supporters were looking forward to exciting times.
Liverpool, playing superb football, was powering their way towards a first League title in 30 years,
the Republic of Ireland were preparing for Euro 20 playoffs, League of Ireland clubs
were getting ready for a new season, and local leagues were coming to the business end of
Unfortunately, sometimes the future comes like a sledgehammer. The world as we knew it
came to a shuddering halt in March of last year!.
The country was shut down to protect our vulnerable groups and front-line workers from a Coronavirus we knew very little about at the
Sport was disrupted more than by any previous wars. Answers had to be found to questions
that were never asked before. Almost a year on, and some of those questions still have to be
answered. One of those questions is how will football come out of this pandemic.
The F.A.I. and the League of Ireland have a nervous time ahead of them. Will football in this
country be reactive or proactive? The Coronavirus has put an enormous strain on finances
but League of Ireland clubs are already accustomed to working with tight budgets and clubs
are going to have to be inventive and proactive to survive. The world of business will look
inwardly and marketing budgets will always be the first to be looked at. Sponsorship will be
difficult to attain, so clubs will have to think outside the box to generate revenue.
Player welfare is another issue that has to be dealt with by clubs. The impact on players who
don’t know if there is a contract or a blank page on the table must be very stressful. Clubs
must be ultra-professional and make sure every part of player welfare is at the forefront of
There are many challenges ahead and the age-old debates about facilities, media coverage,
league structures and coaching continue. Since I retired from the game in 2003 all of the
above have improved. League of Ireland grounds are better, media coverage, while not
perfect, is better. Structures need to be looked at to make football stronger in this country
and while the FAI has endured a turbulent period, even their biggest critics would say that
coach education is one area that Abbottstown have got right. In my opinion, the emerging
talent program is doing a wonderful job and there are a lot of wonderful young players
coming through which bodes well for the future of the game.
The rest of this year looks like it’s going to be another tough one. The extended lockdown
means that supporters won’t be allowed into grounds for the foreseeable future. Sir Matt
Busby once said “football is nothing without supporters”. He was so right. Looking at
matches on TV, with the odd exception, is like looking at a good training session. There is
light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccination rollout is starting and while it will take time, it is
a game changer.
We all long to get to the point where we can go and watch live sport. It might not happen this
year, but it will happen. We will get ahead of this virus and there will be huge opportunities in
the years to come. Sport will survive, and indeed, thrive. Football, the most popular sport in
the world, must lead the way.