Dundalk F.C. set for the golden stage

Peter O'Neill

Dundalk’s win over the Faroe Islands opposition KI has created a windfall in prize money for them. Not only do they get the prestige of being only the 3rd side to reach the group stage of a major European competition (Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk in 2016 being the other 2), the guaranteed €4 million will give them a massive advantage over other League of Ireland clubs for many years.

That’s also without considering additional money they could receive for future positive results in the group stage against the likes of Arsenal. This is massive for a club in a league that’s funding pales in comparison to the likes of the English Premier League opposition they’re about to face twice.

All of this during the coronavirus pandemic has made this money even more crucial. Again, unlike the top English teams, clubs in Ireland would likely be unable to survive a full-scale lockdown again without fans.

Another lockdown would likely also mean the remainder of this season unplayable and beginning of the next being delayed at the least.

Even with the government’s exemption for elite sport at Level 5, playing on without fans just isn’t an option for our professional soccer league.

The FAI Chief Executive said to the government in a joint appeal with the GAA and the IRFU for the introduction of fans, that League of Ireland clubs are in “really dangerous territory” without fans, according to a report by the Irish Times.

Unlike high profile European clubs, they simply don’t make enough in TV money to subsidise their losses.

Unfortunately for Dundalk though, is also the financial windful they would have received from facing high quality opposition such as Arsenal. A survey carried out by Empathy Research showed that Arsenal are 4th most supported football club in the country from anywhere.

Irish players such as Liam Brady’s and David O’Leary’s time at Arsenal have endeared them to vast swaths of the Irish soccer fan populace.

Also considering the added interest alone from supporters of other English teams, the Aviva Stadium could easily have sold out in normal times for Dundalk’s home tie against the North London club. 

On the other hand, not just Dundalk will benefit from their qualification. It raises Ireland’s UEFA co-efficient, which determines how many European places each league gets, and how easy your draw can sometimes be in qualification.

Although Ireland is still some way off the top, it’s some good news in 2020 for Irish soccer.

Peter O’Neill

Image Credit: Dundalk FC