League of Ireland preview: No love lost as Shamrock Rovers host Bohs

Ireland hopefuls taking comfort in Stephen Kenny paying close attention to the league

"There are no League of Ireland fans and non-League of Ireland fans," ventured Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. "I think what we have emerging in Ireland now are football fans, people who love the game and that's at all levels. And people can follow teams passionately in Ireland and simultaneously in other countries if they want to do that, and that's not an issue."

Maybe so, but some tribes remain the same. Take Friday’s Dublin derby. Bohs hate Rovers as much as Rovers hate Bohs. Relations got embarrassingly shouty last season when Bohemians fans were banned from Tallaght Stadium, which prompted a tit-for-tat response denying the Hoops faithful from visiting Dalymount Park.

Throw in Andy Lyons’ career-enhancing switch to Rovers’ fully professional set-up and Bohs’ trip to Whitestown Way bubbles with bitterness.

It was Lyons, many will recall, who knocked Rovers out of the FAI Cup with a savage left-footed winner last year. That alone promises a noisy night in front of a 7,500 sell-out, and nobody else, as RTÉ broadcast the Six Nations clash between Wales and France over committing to a weekly League of Ireland match under Friday floodlights.


RTÉ can and will point to poor viewing figures but this circular debate keeps returning to the argument that people can only develop a habit of watching the Airtricity League if games are given a solid slot in the schedule .

At least the players know that Kenny is an ever present spectator who will promote them to the national squad, with Rovers creative hub Jack Byrne and Danny Mandroiu and Bohs goalkeeper James Talbot recent examples, if they perform to a consistently high standard.

“It’s massive for players that the [IRELAND]manager is watching the games,” says Dylan Watts, another one of Rovers attacking midfielders. “You see him at a lot of League of Ireland matches. It’s brilliant for the league that he is watching and if you can put together a run of performances, that there is a chance you can get called into the squad.”

And Kenny, unlike his Italian or English-based predecessors, is always tuned into domestic narratives while finding time to rove around the English leagues, keeping tabs on emerging stars like Troy Parrott and Gavin Bazunu.

“It’s a goal, it’s every kid’s dream to play for your country and I’m no different,” said Watts. “I think I need to push on again, go another couple of gears to try and find that but it’s something I believe is possible.”

If only the facilities at League of Ireland grounds, described by Brian Kerr as being as in “rag order around the country” on Virgin Media this week, could match what Tallaght stadium is offering.

“Facilities are not good enough,” said Kenny, “nowhere near good enough and if facilities were better we would get more supporters and have a better league because it is all linked to finance and having better crowds and keeping the best players, that is all part of it.”

FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill referred to the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters to explain how the English football industry modernized its out-dated stadiums.

“The real sea change in English football actually came on the back of two major disasters,” said Hill at Thursday’s press conference in Abbotstown. “I think the investment that was made into restructuring at that point has helped English football moving forward and I would like to hope the [IRISH]Government and other parties, and the clubs and owners of the clubs would want to have the right facilities that are fit for purpose for the current fans and new fans and families to come and enjoy the experience in the safe way.

“I think we all agree that we want that to happen but we all understand that will take considerable investment and to get that investment we have to have clearly defined and articulate plan.”

Hill appears to be the CEO tasked with bringing this plan together.

Friday’s League of Ireland FIxtures

Shamrock Rovers v Bohemian FC

Tallaght stadium, 8pm

Former Bohs man Andy Lyons is expected to continue at left wing-back as Rovers manager Stephen Bradley seeks a ship-steadying win after away defeats to Derry City and St Pat's. Bohs striker Promise Omochere is suspended.

Shelbourne v Dundalk

Tolka Park, 7.45pm

Another Steven Bradley - the Dundalk winger rather than Rovers manager - is making waves since arriving on loan from Hibernian having been named the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ player of the month for February as reward for bagging four goals in three matches.

UCD v Derry City

UCD Bowl, 7.45pm

Top plays bottom as the unbeaten Derry visit the winless students in what should be a clean three points for the Candystripes as they look to build on an impressive start to the campaign that has included victories over Shamrock Rovers and Shels.

Drogheda United v Sligo Rovers

Head in the Game Park, 7.45pm

Drogheda and Sligo each boast one win from three games but that’s where the comparisons stop as Rovers rest on five points to United’s three as sixth faces eighth in a tie that has two clubs moving in radically different directions, even considering Drogheda’s 4-2 defeat of UCD last Friday.

Finn Harps v St Patrick’s Athletic

Finn Park, 8pm

Big opportunity for St Pat’s to back up last Friday’s 1-0 defeat of Shamrock Rovers as good news filters through that their teenage winger Darragh Burns has declared for the Republic of Ireland despite playing underage for Northern Ireland. Harps are winless from three outings.