Let's start off by comparing the League of Ireland to England's nPower Championship. This might not seem like the most endearing comparison for the Irish league, but still. The Championship is England's second tier. Many of the fans of big clubs regard it as irrelevant to them, because it's not their level. Sure, some of the players might not be the best in England. Sure some of the teams aren't that great. But one of the main things Ireland has going for it is the excitement the league shows. This season, 2012-13 in the Championship, has been extremely tight. Indeed, before the 27th April there were still ten teams that could fill the two remaining relegation places. After the penultimate game it has been whittled down to just a few teams, but it is still an exciting finish!
This is where the Irish League can compare itself, with the excitement factor. Since the 2005 season, there has been six different winners of the countries top league, which you couldn't see happening in many of Europe's top leagues. In Spain it's either going to Real Madrid or Barcelona. In Italy it'll be Juventus or one of the Milan clubs. In England, it will be one of the Manchester teams now. But in Ireland? Six winners in eight years, with no-one except Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers able to hold onto consecutive titles since 2005. At the moment though, it looks like the title will be returning to Sligo for a second season running, as they lead the Irish table so far, but with plenty of the season left to play.
Not only does the excitement mean that the League of Ireland is good to watch, but it has also produced some quality players along the way. Sunderland's James MacLean is a former Derry City player, making nearly 80 league appearances for them before the age of 22, before securing a move to the Barclays Premier League in 2011. West Brom's Shane Long started his career with Cork City, before leaving for Reading in 2005. Even Ronnie Whelan, who played over 350 league games for Liverpool and over 50 times for the Irish national team started his career in Ireland, with Home Farm. Ireland's league has provided a spring board for many player's careers, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
In my opinion, the biggest thing that causes the Irish league to be nowhere near as big and as interesting as some of the leagues around Europe is purely one thing: money. Many of the clubs aren't able to afford the wages and facilities that make players want to stay, whereas a lot of the clubs in England can. Why would you stay if you knew you could get better elsewhere?
A lot of the best Irish coaches are now working outside their home country too. Look at Liam Brady of Arsenal as an example. For year after year he continues to produce more and more quality youth players from the academy, such as Jack Wilshere.
If the Irish clubs had the money, they would not only be able to build the best possible facilities, but also afford the best wages for the young starlets and the best Irish coaches around. However, the fatal flaw in this is that the money spent by clubs has to be earned by the Irish National Team, who, with all due respect, are never going to be hugely successful, unless they have a Golden Generation to supply the academies with this money.
So before you start to joke about how poor Ireland's league is, stop and think about how much it does actually have going for it, instead of jumping to conclusions. The excitement is probably unrivaled throughout Europe, and some of the players that have been produced by the Irish youth system are brilliant. Is that really the traits of a poor league?