Part time mentality still abounds in National League

 

SOME things change and somehow everything stays the same. While progress is being made on the pitch, the National League game continues to be hampered by self interest and lack of vision off it.

At a time when everyone should be pulling together, these must be depressing times for the progressive people within the game, more and more of whom just bury their heads and get on with their own clubs' business.

It was interesting to hear Pat Devlin observe a couple of weeks ago, how much more professional clubs have become in the few years he has been out of the Premier Division. Gone are the days of ragamuffin teams in jeans and shirts piling out of taxis or a fleet of cars an hour before kick off.

Premier Division clubs are looking the part like never before and there is a real air of professionalism about the game. Brian Kerr, the St Patrick's manager, alluded to this on RTE's Soccer Stadium last Saturday, when observing how much better prepared teams are than was the case even five years ago.

He cited UCD's sporadic employment of a Dutch coach to assist them, and might also have mentioned their development of weight training. The proof is in the pudding, i.e. second place in the table. Kerr might also have mentioned the greater emphasis on diet within his own club and others.

Some clubs, at least, are moving into the 1990s and as the weekend TV highlights showed, pitches (from Galway to Bray to established snooker tops such as Tolka, Belfield, Richmond and the Brandywell) have never been better. If only the same could be said of the National League's administration.

A well meaning, part time mentality still abounds.

Decentskinmanship, I think, is the correct term and 10 or 15 years on, little has changed.

Take the current disciplinary and refereeing rumpus. With the refereeing fraternity seemingly coming apart at the seams (one senses an internal power struggle) suddenly massive suspensions are being handed out willy nilly and utterly inconsistently. Mick Neville, wrongly dismissed in the recent Shelbourne Finn Harps game, was, correctly, not handed a suspension. Remarkably though, neither was his fellow protagonist Pierse Walsh, despite TV cameras clearly showing his use of an elbow, whereupon he rejoined play after being sent off and actually headed the ensuing free clear, forcing it to be retaken.

Joey Byrne, the respected referee and brother in law of John Purcell who resigned recently, broke ranks again on Sunday with a revealing interview in The Title in which he highlighted the supposedly haphazard administration and desperately low morale within Irish refereeing.

In so much as all of this might be an implied criticism of the under siege Paddy Daly, in mitigation of him, the drain on refereeing resources during September due to UEFA demands and injuries was probably unprecedented. More, what it should highlight, is the ongoing difficulty of part time administration by people who have demanding jobs away from the game. Perhaps the new Executive Secretary, due to be appointed in mid November, will help to ease some of the load.

But can we any longer trust the National League even with such an appointment, and should it come from within at all? The backward decision to increase the Premier Division to 16 clubs was borne purely and simply out of self interest by smaller clubs (and smaller minds).

That decision alone condemns the whole system of self regulation and underlines why we need people who are truly independent to come in and run the game purely in the best interests of the National League generally.

Take the recently announced television five year deal between RTE and the FAI. Once again there was little or no consultation with the clubs about this. As one club secretary commented to me, "the first thing we knew about this was when we read it in the papers".

No figures were announced, no mention was made of who represented the National League in the negotiations (if anyone did at all).

All that was revealed was a commitment to "more coverage of domestic soccer including a regular magazine programme compromising all elements of the association from schoolboy to international level."

Aside from being long overdue (as much the FAI's fault as RTE's) why should the National League share its one slot of the week with all other elements of the association? Is it too much to ask that a weekly magazine programme be confined exclusively to the National League?

Last Sunday week, in the only Premier Division game of the day Shelbourne scored four top quality goals in their defeat of Bray Wanderers. Not a camera in sight. Is it too much to ask that there be a camera at every ground?

Time may reveal otherwise, and this may be particularly unfair of newly installed chief executive Bernard O'Byrne, who has impressed many in the initial stages of his job, but the widely held impression yet again is that Merrion Square's only real interest is the international scene, and that the domestic game lags along like some irritant.

Recall, after all, the remarkable decision to begin the World Cup qualifying campaign on the same weekend as the first round of Premier Division matches. Add to that, the FAI's declaration that Sunday week will be a closed day due to the Republic of Ireland Iceland match. So it is that, for example. UCD are compelled to hold their attractive top of the table clash with Bohemians on the Saturday afternoon. They weren't even permitted their own favoured options of Sunday morning, or alternatively the preceding Saturday night, due to the under 21 international in Whitehall.

Just brush the fixtures aside. Tough UCD (and by extension the National League). Like it or lump it.