The Balls.ie weekly League of Ireland column is back for 2023 and this year we’re aiming to be your midweek bridge between the weekend series of games. We’ve tried to put some structure on it but don’t worry, it will still be continue to be mostly tongue-in-cheek and sometimes biased against your team.
Anyway, week one: Let’s gooooo.
The Big Talking Point: the supporters
You know a story is big when the notoriously fickle LOI fans on the internet are unanimously in agreement on an issue, and so it was on Sunday morning when the attendances figures for week one came out. 30,221 supporters through gates to watch the 10 games feels like a watershed moment. We wrote about the incredible average of 4,418 in the Premier Division ourselves and other sports media picked up on it too. Week one produces a little overreaction theatre every year and it might be that these figures won’t be seen again, but it was a very positive weekend for the league.
The numbers likely won’t be repeated for week 2 (with Turners Cross and Tallaght Stadium not in use) but week 3 sees Shamrock Rovers v Derry City with the fourth stand due to be open in Tallaght. If Cork can get a good crowd against UCD and we had in a Shels v Bohs derby and a potential grudge match in Oriel Park between Dundalk and Pats and we should have a large base to build on. In the First Division we have home games for Waterford, Kerry and Harps amongst others. Wexford put a lot of work in for the opening game and reports suggest over 1,000 locals were in the 1,981 crowd for the visit of Waterford. The most surprising crowd though might have been in Longford with 1,514 in attendance for the Midlands Clasico against Athlone. We’ll see how many of those return after the opening night defeat.
The Moment Of The Week
You might think it’s contrived, but the moment of week one was literally one of the last moments of the weekend with Lukas Browning-Lagerfeldt equalising got Sligo Rovers at home to 10-man Shamrock Rovers in the 95th minute on Saturday.
Great atmosphere in the Showgrounds last night where Rovers topped off a solid performance with a well-earned late equaliser. All the best to players and staff for the 2023 campaign. @sligorovers pic.twitter.com/C3PGDjI3Wj
— Kevin Finn (@KevinFinnPhysio) February 19, 2023
A fine strike by the Drogheda-born Swedish midfielder earned a deserved point for the home side in a game that saw both sides create multiple chances. Shamrock Rovers weren’t happy about the red card shown to Roberto Lopes but they’ve decided not to become the first club use the newly installed red-card appeal mechanism.
The Happiness Index
There’s 20 teams in the men’s LOI and that means 20 different fanbases. They can’t all be happy but each week we’ll rank the five happiest groups.
- Bohemians – a win in Cork and a new bigger Dalymount to come home to next weekend,
- Kerry – OK they lost but a first ever game means this might be the happiest they’ll ever be.
- Galway United – a win in Finn Park means they’re already nearly guaranteed a top 2 spot.
- Waterford – a win in Wexford means they’re already nearly guaranteed a top 2 spot.
- UCD – they might have brought less fans than players to Dundalk but we’re sure they enjoyed that point thanks to Lorcan Healy’s brilliant penalty save and Ciaran Behan’s equally brilliant free kick.
Media Spotlight of the Week: respect to the logo
Cork City 1-2 Bohemians - Another goalkeeper howler gifts Cork a lifeline and sets up a big finish at Turner's Cross after Ruairi Keating tucks the ball home. #RTEsoccer
📺 Watch live on @rte2 and @rteplayer: https://t.co/1CdVcPa1jr
📱Live updates: https://t.co/tdyPY97HaN pic.twitter.com/TFebbYVWx3
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) February 17, 2023
We will likely have plenty to complain about in this section over the next 40 weeks, so we’ll choose to ignore the Irish Times completely avoiding the League on Friday and instead compliment the League admin on their successful branding of the league this week. The RTE graphics matching the coverage on LOITV (at least for the Premier Division games) looked great and the new logos and colour schemes added a layer of professionalism to the broadcasts. Now we only have to wait a month for the next RTE game. We couldn’t even go one paragraph without moaning twice/
Kenny Cunningham’s Eyebrow Raise of the Week - Hull City/Dundalk links
Reports from Dundalk suggest that Hull City’s chairman, Acun Illcali, is preparing a financial package to take a controlling stake in the Oriel Park outfit. Local journalist James Rogers reported earlier in pre-season that Dundalk were seeking outside investment which led to the club issuing a statement stating those reports were not true. The rumour mill now believes that the reports from Rogers were true. Dundalk, of course, have been down the outside owners’ route before. That didn’t end well but there’ll still be fans who’ll welcome the new owners with open arms once they promise to upgrade the first team. Not all fans of course, but it’s certainly one to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.
Predicting the Game of the Week
Some intriguing ties in the Premier Division this weekend but the pick of them is probably Bohemians home opener against Dundalk. Both teams have designs on European qualification and if Bohs can start the season with 6 points from 2 games, they’ll have a five-point head start on Dundalk. All ten games kick off on Friday at 7:45pm.
The national underage leagues have been rebranded as Academy Development Programmes. We think it works. They've a great sponsor in EA Sports too.