Peter Sweeney: The league doesn't need strong Dublin clubs - but it could certainly use them

Sun, Aug 06 2017

St Patrick's Athletic are the only club to have challenged for, let alone won, the title since 2011. Credit: Billy Galligan

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As fans of Dundalk and Cork will no doubt tell you, the League of Ireland Premier Division can quite happily survive without the need for Dublin clubs to be competing for titles.

 

And while this is very true, would the league not be in a better place if at least one of the Dublin clubs was challenging Cork or Dundalk at the end of the season?

 

After all, Bohs and Shamrock Rovers are two of the best supported clubs in the division and their fans would travel in far greater numbers if either team was involved in a title chase.

 

I`m sure Pats fans would also be there in numbers if their team was pushing for the league instead of pulling away from the relegation zone.

 

In the fifteen years between 1997 and 2011, Shels, Rovers, Pats and Bohs won thirteen league titles between them. Cork in 2005 and Drogheda in 2007 were the only interruptions to this Dublin dominance of the league.

 

Historically, this dominance by Dublin clubs is reflected in the number of league titles won: Shamrock Rovers 17, Shelbourne 13, Bohemians 11, St Pats eight. Dundalk, with 12, are the only side outside of Dublin to feature among the top five title-winning clubs in the league.

 

In the six seasons since 2011, (and apart from Pats title in 2013), the Dublin clubs haven`t been anywhere near challenging for the league. There wasn`t even a runners-up spot to reflect on, just a couple of 3rd-place finishes from Rovers and Pats.

 

It hasn`t helped, of course, that these Dublin rivals routinely take points off one another and disrupt any winning momentum that any of them might gain. In short, local rivalries mock the formbook time and time again.

 

If league titles have proved elusive in recent years, success in the FAI Cup has been even more scarce. Between them, Rovers, Shels, Pats and Bohs have won the Cup 41 times.

 

In the past 17 years, however, only Bohs in 2001 and 2008, and Pats in 2014, have managed to win our second most important domestic trophy.

 

It is now thirty years since Rovers, the so-called kingpins of the Cup, have won this competition, having previously won it 24 times.

 

Can the Dublin clubs ever regain their high standing in the league, in the short term at least? Sadly, Shels have only the jersey to remind them of better days and are further than ever from the top tier.

 

Bohs have a restricted budget and don`t have the resources to compete at the top, even though Keith Long is doing a brilliant job.

 

Rovers have an exciting project in place at Tallaght but for now they are not consistent and have yet to sort out their central defence.

 

As for Pats, they`re as unpredictable as ever. On their day they can beat anyone, but can lose just as easily the following week.

 

As I said at the outset, the league will function quite happily, regardless of how the Dublin clubs are doing.

 

But would it not help if one or two of these – Rovers, Pats or Bohs – were challenging Cork and Dundalk at the top, if only to increase the away support at LOI grounds and increase the interest among football fans in the most populated region of the country?