“You know what this has become? It’s become the world against Roddy Collins! The conversation has become a nonsense. This conversation has become ‘Irish football against Roddy Collins.’ We should have just discussed it and moved on! The conversation has become an embarrassment now.”
Stuey Byrne began his contribution to Newstalk’s ‘Off the Ball’ programme on Tuesday by defending Roddy Collins from “people in the media” who, he claimed, “have it in for” the former Derry City and Bohemians manager. However, it was a thankless task. A potentially stimulating discussion on the standard of Irish domestic football instead became about individuals. “A farce,” fumed Byrne.
Collins had made headlines the previous day after revealing that he was embarrassed by what he saw on display in the FAI Cup final between his former club and St Patrick’s Athletic. Having brought Luton Town manager John Still over to Dublin to watch the game, where he was to run the rule over a number of potential recruits, Collins explained that Still wasn’t sufficiently impressed.
“At the end of the game [Still] said to me: ‘There’s not one of those players would get into my team’,” Collins said on RTE radio on Monday. “That was disappointing for me, and that’s an expert opinion. So, you know, we’re a little bit deluded.”
The Dubliner added that he felt embarrassed by the quality of the football, as well as the relatively small crowd in attendance, which came in at just over 17,000. In a 50,000-seater stadium, it is fair to say that doesn’t take the breath away.
Unsurprisingly, his comments provoked a reaction, drawing bemused responses from several League of Ireland footballers on social media, including Keith Fahey, Stephen O’Donnell and Ger O’Brien, among others. O’Donnell jokingly remarked that Collins and Still were “two gurus of the game” and Fahey, a Republic of Ireland international, described the news as “garbage”, incredulously protesting that he could play football in League Two with “[his] eyes closed.”
Invited to give his view on the situation, Byrne elaborated on what he had written in his column for The Score.ie and was keen to emphasise that Collins’ comments, which primarily relayed the supposed view of John Still (rather than Collins’), were being blown out of proportion. But Collins was in a combative mood and the former Shelbourne captain was soon left exasperated. “If I say it, I mean it,” Collins defiantly declared. “What I say, I mean and if people take umbrage, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s my opinion.”
In the same discussion, Collins bluntly told Ger O’Brien that he wouldn’t be good enough for League Two and accused footballers in Ireland of being deluded about the standard of the domestic league, which he claims is going backwards. When O’Brien suggested that footballers would be happier to compete in European competition than the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, Collins responded in typically pugnacious fashion. “You all live in this little world where you think ‘we’re playing in Europe every year’. What have you done in Europe, Ger?” he blasted.
The gloves were off and the Dubliner wasn’t abandoning his stance. Eventually, however, the discussion regained a semblance of civility and all parties agreed that the game in Ireland is far from being perfect and that more could be done to help it grow.
Roddy Collins is a truly visceral character and a powerful personality but unfortunately such rawness does not win him many admirers, despite the apparent legitimacy of some sentiments he expresses. Over the years he has managed countless clubs but has, rightly or wrongly, earned a reputation for being bombastic and egotistical, so his recent comments are roundly dismissed as contrived and any sense he makes is often tainted by his prickly style of delivery. However, he is at ease with that. “That’s just me being me,” he conceded.
Whether or not the eminent John Still’s opinion can be deemed ‘expert’ is debateable, ditto Collins’ view of the FAI Cup final and O’Brien’s ability to make it in League Two, but one thing is certain: the domestic game has many ills and is in need of fresh impetus. For while positives such as the improvement of our clubs in Europe, the resurgence of regional clubs such as Dundalk, Galway United and Cork City, and the continued elevation of talent to higher levels give us cause for celebration, there remains a shallowness to the landscape.
It has been said countless times, but bears repeating: the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), clubs and indeed wider communties must delve deeper in order to enrich the ground so that the domestic game can take root and blossom. That much is clear and has been for quite some time.
In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, for example, Keith Fahey, who returned to the league following a spell with Birmingham City, bemoaned attitudes and facilities, suggesting that little had changed since his departure for England in 2008. “I like things to be done properly and nobody [in the league] seems to take responsibility: ‘Whose job is that? It’s his, no it’s his.’ Even for the most simple things.” Such observations from one of the best players in the league are deflating, but ultimately necessary. An object will not move forward until acted upon by a force.
The FAI must lead from the front and take responsibility. If the League of Ireland is a “difficult child” for the organisation, as John Delaney infamously said, then it requires more attention. Its development must be nurtured and that reality is ultimately what has Colllins so riled.
PÁIRC UÍ CHAOIMH DEVELOPMENT SHOWS POTENTIAL
The Irish Examiner reported on Wednesday that Cork GAA will receive €20 million from the GAA as part of the €70 million redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. €30 million will come from a government grant, while the Cork County Board will contribute €20 million.
For an amateur sport, such figures are huge and appear astronomical when placed against the level of investment that is accrued and filtered down through Irish soccer.
Indeed, when one considers that the entire prize fund for the 2014 Premier Division is €241,500 (with the winner pocketing €100,000) the dichotomy is astonishing. Crucially, however, it also shows what is possible with the right governance.
While I don’t expect Irish football clubs to be the beneficiaries of such extravagant spending any time soon, the GAA’s ability to dispense such sums begs the question: why can’t Irish football be the same?
When proposing that Dalymount Park be redeveloped as part of the legacy of Dublin hosting games at Euro 2020, John Delaney explained that he works closely with all clubs and local authorities with a view to improving facilities. Is he working hard enough?
RODGERS’ SELECTION DECISIONS SHOW WHERE PRIORITIES LIE
Brendan Rodgers came in for heavy criticism when he named what was, in effect, a second-string XI to face Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday. Stalwarts such as Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson were relegated to the bench as Rodgers kept one eye on his side’s forthcoming league clash against Chelsea.
Commentators and supporters remarked that it was a departure from the ideals of ‘traditional Liverpool’ and showed disrespect to both the competition and the club’s supporters. It was, according to Gary Lineker, a case of throwing in the proverbial towel.
In the end, Liverpool only lost the game 1-0 and Rodgers emphasised that such a result is proof that they didn’t wave the white flag. Nevertheless, it was a telling selection; it entrenches the view that football at the highest level is purely about financial considerations, rather than prestige, or the will of supporters.
A Champions League game against the reigning champions in Spain is an exhilarating prospect for the fans, but long-term financial planning is of more importance to clubs. A win against Real Madrid in the group stage of the 2014 Champions League would soon be forgotten if the club fails to return to that stage in 2015.