The League of Ireland Premier Division, also known as the Airtricity League, is a ton of fun. I had the pleasure to catch an Airtricity game between St. Pats Athletic and Limerick last year in Dublin and from the pyro to the goals it was a wonderful football experience.
The LOI brands itself as the ‘Greatest League in the World’ and it features legendary rivalries such as Bohemians vs Shamrock. It’s also home to the Sligo Rovers, who were paid 60 grand for the services of a right back named Seamus Coleman.
Seamus apparently still follows the Irish league, and says that their two powerhouses, Dundalk and Cork City, could compete in the English Championship. As quoted in the Irish Mirror:
When some of the younger players in England ask you about the standard in the League of Ireland, you might hear ‘League 2’ thrown about. I know there are some teams in the League of Ireland who are better than others so it’s hard to compare. But Cork City now or the year Dundalk were in the Europa League, you’re talking Championship-level teams...
The League itself knows that people from the outside don’t give it the credit it deserves - which is a shame when you think of all the players that went over.
Dundalk and Cork City are currently eight points clear of everyone else in Ireland, at 43 and 41 points, respectively, with goal differentials of 32 and 21 (the next best GD is 8). They have finished top two in the table for the last four years and generally speaking dominate the league.
That being said, it’s very difficult to gauge exactly how well they would stack up in other leagues. Fortunately, we have an example that should be informative.
The Airtricity league runs a summer schedule similar to MLS in the United States, so by the time the English season got going, the Irish teams were well into their season. Cork City was unbelievably dominant last year, and they were lead by their talismanic goalscorer Sean Maguire. Maguire had 20 goals in 21 Irish matches, and three goals in four Europa League qualifiers.
Then Championship side Preston North End called and he moved over to the English second tier. It took some time for Maguire to find his footing in the tougher league, Preston played him a bit deeper on the pitch and he didn’t score until his sixth game.
However by the end of the year he had racked up 1678 minutes and scored ten times, to go along with three assists. That’s a goal or assist every 129 minutes.
Maguire was easily the best player in the Irish League during the first half of the season, and at just 24 the Championship may not be his peak. Clearly, the top players in the Irish league can compete in the Championship.
Whether this completely validates Coleman’s claim, I’m not sure, but as someone who follows the LOI I’m really happy to see someone else noticing the great football that’s played there.
Coleman also mentioned he may end up coaching in the LOI, telling the ‘Greatest League in the World” podcast:
My focus is on playing as long as I can in England at the highest level and I wouldn’t want to come back to the League of Ireland just to come back, I would want to make sure I had something to offer. It has crossed my mind a few times to get my coaching badges done and managing, or starting, in the League of Ireland.
As a fan of the LOI I’d love nothing more than to see a class act and great player like Seamus coaching in the league. The LOI has a great future and the man known for ‘playing the Everton way’ knows it.