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Irish Clubs Are Punching Well Above Their Weight In Europe

David Kent
By David Kent
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After being utterly spoiled by Dundalk's exploits in both the Champions League and the Europa League this season, there is almost a sense of surprise and disappointment that none of the three remaining teams from the League of Ireland travel away from home this week carrying leads in their respective games as we approach the second legs of European ties.

Cork City and Shamrock Rovers face uphill ties in the Europa League having both lost by a single goal at home last week while Dundalk travel to Norway after only managing a 1-1 draw with Rosenborg at Oriel Park.

In reality though, both City and Rovers have done extremely well to qualify for this round, and Dundalk are still very much in the tie against a team whose budget is much bigger than any League of Ireland team's.

And that's something that has been an ongoing trend. While we expect more and more from our teams in Europe, the fact is they are already massively overachieving - punching well above their weight.


We used UEFA's league coefficient rankings, coupled with the bumper FAI stat pack on the LOI in Europe to focus on how Irish clubs have actually got on against stronger nations.

Israel: (80% of the time, avoided defeat)

Played 5, won 2, drawn 2

Cyprus: (60%)
Played 15, won 7, drawn 2

Iceland (60%)
Played 20, won 6, drawn 6

Sweden (55%)
Played 27, won 7, drawn 8,

Kazakhstan (50%)
Played 2, won 1, lost 1

When clubs come up against team from Israel, whose league is ranked 16 places above the League of Ireland, they've only lost once in five games.


The Swedish league is ranked 17 places ahead of our League but their teams have had some shockers against Irish clubs. Cork City's dismantling of Malmo in 2004 probably the worst performance. Overall, Irish clubs have avoided defeat in over half of their matches against Swedish opposition.

Cypriot sides regularly go deep into the Champions League qualifying rounds, or indeed the group stages. Irish sides have avoided defeat more often than not - the same percentage as when they come up against Icelandic teams.

Why is this so impressive?


TV Deals


Irish clubs are contractually supposed to be shown on RTE. From 2015-2018, the channel are supposed to show on average, 18 league/FAI Cup games per season.

In 2017 so far, they've shown five league games. Add to that the FAI Cup semi finals and final to bring it to eight.


Given there are only 11 rounds of game left in the League this season, it seems unlikely RTE will even match this already meagre number.

RTE don't pay the clubs for these rights either. They broadcast the games as part of a wider deal with the FAI.

Compare that to Cypriot sides who earned €12,000,000 between them from television rights last season. That's up from about €934,000 in 2005-06. Or the Swedish league in 2016, which received around about €39,000,000 in broadcasting rights money.


Salaries and transfers


It's a rarity that you see a transfer fee between two League of Ireland clubs. For that to happen, contracts need to be more than one year - which they aren't. Players operate on a 40-week contract.

The average wage is between €500 and €700 a week, depending on the club. Many are part time, with players working in pubs, and using the League of Ireland as an extra source of income.

Let's again focus on the First Division in Cyprus. 27.4% of all transfers happen between clubs in the top division. Players are moving for actual fees.

In Sweden, the average income for a club per year is €10,000,000.


Production lines

In Iceland since 2000, there have been 'football centres' set up all around the country. It's why so many of the successful Euro 2016 played in the domestic league. There's now nine of them across the country and any prize money made by the international side is pumped back into the game at grassroots level. Some of these centres have capacities of 1,800.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, schoolboy clubs groom youngsters to move to England as quickly as possible. Most of those players don't make it.

As for Irish internationals coming from the domestic league?

The last Irish manager before the current one claimed 'in Ireland, there is no league'. The current boss is ignoring one of the most in form strikers in the UK and Ireland - until, of course, he moves to Preston.

Prize money:

Israeli clubs can get anything between €200,000 - €1,000,000 depending on where they finish in the league table.

An Irish club will receive a measly €110,000 for winning the Premier Division.

If any club qualifies for Europe however, they get €220,000. A worrying trend, for now, is that it's the same clubs that get this money every year.

You can bet your backside that Dundalk, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers will be three of Ireland's representatives every season. Most of the time they'll be joined by Derry City.


Yet the results keep on coming for Irish sides.

Dundalk's magnificent run to the group stages last year included a win against Tel-Aviv. A club the size of Maccabi should have beaten the Lilywhites, regardless of form. The same applies to KRC Genk of Belgium. They stuttered past Cork City last year, and would eventually be very unlucky to go out in the quarter finals.

Fair enough, this year, Midtyjlland did annihilate Derry City, but AEK Larnaca should have crushed Cork in Turner's Cross and Shamrock Rovers should have been knocked out by Starjnan, such is the gap in wealth and income.

The League of Ireland has a point to prove every year in Europe. It's the same thing they struggle with every other week. There is the quality to match these powerhouses.

Let's hope there is another giantkilling this week, but they've already exceeded any realistic expectations that could have been placed on them.


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