Cobh Ramblers manager Stephen Henderson has called for a total revamp of the domestic leagues to help usher in a bright new era for Irish football.
The curtain came down on another League of Ireland season on Friday night with Cork City ending Dundalk’s three-year reign as champions, and while there have been some major success stories this year such as Sean Maguire’s Ireland call-up in the same season as his star turn on Leeside, there have been negatives too such as the furore surrounding events at Bray Wanderers and Athlone Town.
Speaking to Pundit Arena’s Irish football podcast The Mixer this week, Henderson cites the fact that Maguire was called up to the national squad only a few short weeks into his Preston career as a prime example that the League of Ireland simply isn’t being taken seriously:
“We undersell ourselves. We’ve an inferiority complex, and the way we promote our league and the way things happen in our league, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We’re not taken seriously, we have to put our hands up and say we’re not taken seriously as a league.
“The reason for that is some of the nonsense that goes on it in; we’d be here all day and I’d end up getting banned for ten years but we don’t help ourselves, that’s ultimately the problem.
“Within this league that is constantly criticised, we have some exceptional coaches. We don’t promote ourselves in a positive manner. We knock ourselves, there’s nothing but negativity about this bloody league, but there is some genuinely talented coaches and talented players in it.
“But because of the cynicism towards it, players have to leave and go to League 2, they go over on the plane and all of a sudden they’re up to international standard. That’s not the case, these players are already up to it.”
Rather than simply trying to make the current operation function better, however, Henderson has called for a complete overhaul of Irish domestic football in order to bring it up to a level that it could potentially reach with the right system in place:
“It’s so important that we sit down together as a group and try to rejuvenate Irish football. I think it needs to be rebranded, I think the name “League of Ireland football” people laugh at that so that has to be rebranded, we need to look at the structure of the league.
“There’s so much we need to sit down as a group, not the crowd that go and make decisions for other people, we need, as a group – supporters, politicians, the FAI, the clubs, coaches, players, managers, everybody – get a meeting going and say ‘let’s try and make this league something to be proud of. How are we going to do it? Yeah it’ll take time but let’s start from the beginning. Let’s throw out all the bullshit from the past and leave it there in the past. Clean slate, have a look at this league, how re we going to push it on?’
“The sooner we do that the better, because we have some fantastically talented players in this country that we’re going to continue to lose until we gain some credibility for the league that we all love.”
You can hear much more from Stephen, including his thoughts on the promotion/relegation structure in this season’s league, in the latest episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast: