Ireland: Bohemians lead the way

IRISH domestic football is often one of the most low profile around Europe, but there could be a very interesting title race emerging this season after three years of domination by Shamrock Rovers. Their Dublin rivals, Bohemians, are top of the league after 11 games and have a five point lead over second-placed Derry City. Shamrock are in third position. 

Crowds in Ireland are on the increase, with an average of 3,527 in 2023 versus 2,816 in 2022, a rise of 25%. Bohemians’ crowds are up 25% to 4,256 and St. Patrick’s Athletic’s attendances have improved by 29%. Newly-promoted Cork City, despite struggling, are enjoying a 30% increase. Nobody is really sure why there has been an upswing of interest, but the pandemic may have fuelled enthusiasm to get out and see live football.

Bohemians, a fan-owned club since 1890, are also making their mark in their broad range of community activities. Among these is a new away kit that will benefit Palestinian children as well as a climate justice initiative, in collaboration with other clubs across Europe. Bohemians have been rebuilt over the past decade and also decided to go full-time, introducing more training and hiring a director of football. The club has had financial troubles in the past, but in 2021, they benefitted from around € 850,000 from European competition enabling them to generate a surplus of € 733,000.

Bohemians are determined to avoid the pitfalls that have thrust many Irish clubs into financial problems. Many clubs, over the past 20-30 years have either gone into administration or near-liquidation. There are no big money owners in Irish football.

The pandemic was harsh on smaller clubs and even Ireland’s most decorated club, Shamrock Rovers made a sizeable loss in 2020 of € 1.,7 million, but returned to profit in 2021 to the tune of £ 410,000. Shamrock had a varied European campaign in 2022-23, participating in the qualifying rounds of the Champions and Europa Leagues before finishing bottom of their group in the Conference League. The money earned from this 14-game run will undoubtedly significantly boost their 2023 finances. Other Irish sides – Derry City and Sligo – struggled to make much progress in Europe.

Two sides in the League of Ireland Premier Division play on artificial surfaces, Dundalk and Derry City. There is considerable opposition to these pitches as they are both considered detrimental to good football by their critics. Only recently, two managers spoke out against 3G and 4G pitches, claiming players get more injuries from taking part in matches on them. Ironically, Derry and Dundalk have had something of an injury crisis. It’s not so easy to change the situation as the cost of reinstalling a new grass pitch can be prohibitive and could cost around € 750,000. 

League table (as at April 23, 2023)

2Derry City11542168198
3Shamrock R1146122121810
4St. Patrick’s Ath115241817171
5Sligo Rovers114431614162
8Drogheda Utd1134481213-4
9Cork City1123614219-7

Next fixtures: April 28
Shelbourne – Cork City
UCD – Bohemians
Dundalk – Drogheda United
Derry City – St. Patrick’s Ath.
Shamrock Rovers – Sligo

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