Dundalk may have narrowly missed out on progression to the knockout stages of the Europa League, after losing out to Maccabi Tel Aviv last week, but their successes should be considered a big victory for Irish football. Undoubtedly, there have been plenty of Irishmen who have excelled in the sport, yet the country’s national league has always been left behind. Whilst Dundalk picking up points in the Europe won’t miraculously transform the League of Ireland, it does nonetheless provide both the league and Dundalk themselves with a stepping stone to help them move forward.
The most obvious gain, which is going to massively help the club, is the financial benefits. Dundalk generated more revenue for their win against Maccabi Tel Aviv earlier in the Group Stage than they did for winning the league last season. This will massively help the club to provide funds to improve the club infrastructure and even give the Lilywhites of Dundalk some financial strength in the transfer market which could theoretically help the side surpass their achievements in Europe this year. If they are able to upgrade and develop their facilities whilst creating a better environment for their players to train and play in, then this will surely boost the players already at the club as well as those that could potentially join.
Speaking of attracting players to the club, the platform and popularity that Europa League success alone has brought Dundalk will inevitably help. Whilst the likes of Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan are likely to leave due to interest from England, the Lilywhites status as frontrunners in the Irish game will ensure that the pair will be sufficiently replaced.
The fact that the aforementioned pair made into the Republic of Ireland national side whilst playing for Dundalk could, in turn, pave the way for more League of Ireland players representing their country. Previously, Irish players would only really get the chance to represent their country once/if they left the domestic league and moved abroad, however, this new advancement could lead to Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane looking closer to home when picking their national squads.
Domestic football in Ireland has been considerably behind the standards set in Scotland and England in recent years and this is something that should be of top priority to the national governing body. It will take more than just one run in the Europa League to transform the league, but Dundalk, officials, and the Irish national team will all hope that the benefits are felt in Irish football. We have all seen the talent that Ireland can offer, so there is no rationale as to why the League of Ireland can’t push on and continue improving in quality and in turn performances in Europe.
Dundalk have been rightfully heralded for their achievement, but they and Irish football fans alike will be looking to ensure that this isn’t just the start.