It was the weekend that football fans around the country had been waiting on for what seemed like an eternity.
Off-seasons are usually dour and long affairs but, once you add in a sprinkle of a global pandemic, it feels even more elongated.
The glare of the live television cameras was on Tallaght Stadium for champions Shamrock Rovers against St Patrick's Athletic, but the two hours beforehand, the 2021 League of Ireland season kicked off at Head in the Game Park, with newly-promoted Drogheda United taking on Waterford.
This match, as with all matches in Ireland's top division, was brought to us by WatchLOI, the platform RTE and FAI have continued from last season.
There's no alternative to watching live football in the flesh, but the ability to watch north of 60 matches for €59 represents value.
Of course, there were teething problems for WatchLOI last season, the main gripe for fans being a lack of co-commentators. Thankfully, Declan 'Fabio' O'Brien was on-hand to watch the opening game of the season with Siobhan Madigan.
Drogheda United got the opening goal of the new #LOI season earlier and here's how that winner against Waterford came about
Match report: https://t.co/DwhOTlbJPR #rtesoccer pic.twitter.com/8ONOLQuy23
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) March 19, 2021
However, that positivity soon dwindled.
Quite quickly, it became noticeable that there would be no replays throughout the match, something which commentator Madigan had to explain to viewers at home. This is despite the cameras being used by WatchLOI being provided by RTE.
It wasn't until the Saturday kick-offs where the problems of WatchLOI came to the fore.
In the FAI's infinite wisdom, all three matches on Saturday kicked off at 6pm, meaning the neutrals planning on watching a match had to make a decision on which to watch rather than being able to take in all three.
Furthermore, the kick-off times meant that the trio of matches were coming up against the conclusion of Ireland's match with England in the Six Nations.
If the plan for WatchLOI is to attract wandering eyes, it was a baffling decision considering most Irish sports fans would be otherwise occupied.
Nevertheless, all matches had their problems.
There were no replays for any of the three matches, and as goals went in at the Showgrounds, Bishopsgate and Finn Park, you couldn't see them until the final whistle.
Additionally, throughout the games broadcast on WatchLOI, there was no team information at the outset of the broadcast and, for most matches, the score and match clock had vanished from the screen.
It meant having to track the time of matches and scores on a secondary screen, which is ludicrous.
RTE Head of Sport Declan McBennett, who also made the decision to axe the League of Ireland's weekly highlights programme, has said that amenities like replays and co-commentators are the perks of a "television production" and aren't feasible on a streaming service when speaking to the RTE Soccer Podcast.
"Every game was covered, many with additional cameras. Replays, additional cameras and co-commentators and analysis is television production and not streaming. Television production is extremely expensive."
However, in the pre-season, both Dundalk and Longford Town produced their own streaming services so fans could watch matches, with both services containing replays and co-commentary.
These in-house productions were far better than the dross service provided by WatchLOI on the opening weekend of the season.
Picture quality of WatchLOI camera v LTFC's own footage. Quite the difference... pic.twitter.com/K0y0CesQqM
— Ross (@rusty1924) March 21, 2021
With RTE stating that they spent north of £300k on production costs alone for WatchLOI last season, it's hard to believe where that money went.
People, whether directly through the platform or indirectly through membership of their club, have forked out again for this service, and what they're being dealt with isn't event the bare minimum.
League of Ireland fans are oft a moany and contrarian bunch, but they have an absolute right to be pissed off at the sub-par service they've paid for this weekend.
Rather than talk about the scalps that Longford Town and Finn Harps took, or moan about something that occurred on the pitch, such as the state of officiating that was witnessed in Tallaght and Sligo, we're talking about a streaming service.
Ah sure, at least football is back...
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