Dundalk captain Brian Gartland is hopeful a brighter future lies ahead for the League of Ireland.
The experienced defender was part of a delegation of players to meet with Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross and his junior minister Brendan Griffin last week to discuss the future of the league in the wake of ongoing financial problems within the FAI.
Assured at the meeting that the FAI would not be allowed to fail, Gartland revealed that Ministers Ross and Griffin listened to the views of those present and agreed the league should be prioritised at long last after decades of neglect.
Giving his reaction on proceedings to The Argus, Gartland said: “There was a lot of positives in it.
“I suppose it sums up where we were that the government underestimated the weight, the size and the uproar of the League of Ireland. That was evident by the meeting before Christmas where they showed they weren’t very knowledgable about the League of Ireland.
“I like the fact that they called in the clubs and the PFAI to get that knowledge. They didn’t talk. They just had an open floor and said you tell us what is wrong.
“They’re going to have a meeting with UEFA and they wanted to know what was the best way to approach it, what they can ask of them and what can they tell them. I think through the hour and a half or two hour meeting everything was aired out or at least the main points anyway.
“We wanted to get the main point across which was the state Irish football is in because of neglect from the FAI. UEFA funding has gone to the FAI that was meant to go towards different areas whether that be women’s football, development, the league or the clubs. We don’t know where that money has gone and UEFA don’t know where the money has gone. Things like that were important to highlight but it’s good that we had our voices heard because we’re the main stakeholders of the game.”
The 33-year-old said it was important that clubs were assisted in becoming sustainable but said for the likes of him in the latter stages of his career he had suffered as a result of mismanagement of the league.
“People putting money into clubs are not getting bang for their buck in terms of a just and fair running of the league. You should be able to get sustainable clubs out of the league but maybe because of the neglect the league hasn’t been able to shine or grow.
“It has been money down the drain for some people and the same goes for the time put in by volunteers.
“It hasn’t been ran properly. From a players point of view, the last few years have been good to me at Dundalk but it’s only in the last two or three years that you’re on a decent wage that you can live off. It’s by no means anything better than standard jobs that my friends are in but for 10 years before that I was playing for expenses or part-time money. Every other player was like that.
“Had I not played football I would have had better money and maybe a better career money wise for my family, life or for mortgage reasons. Players have dedicated their lives to football but you have to think what could have been. They could have had better careers financially and success wise in terms of what Irish clubs can do in Europe if the league had been ran well.
“From that point of view, stakeholders have been left short so it’s nice that we’re now being heard. That’s a positive and the other is that the likelihood is that the FAI will be okay. The government will help and the League of Ireland will be central to football in this country going forward which would be a first because football abroad has always been the priority for the association here.
“They’ve always looked to get players abroad but why not get them to play here? If they go abroad and have a good career then brilliant and it will be good for our international team but let’s not rely on the outside. That’s a really good positive I think. It’s great for the league if it’s going to be ran well and going to be a priority.
“It’s a great opportunity for the League of Ireland and football in this country but there’s a bit of a mess to get through first and this meeting with UEFA. There are a lot of people angry with the past and looking for accountability and that’s right and just but we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and then look to the future.”
Gartland added that football had a huge role to play in local economies and in improving spirits within the community.
“If this town didn’t have the success of Dundalk FC over the last few years it would be a different town. It has everyone’s spirits up. For towns like Dundalk it is brilliant. Sligo is another where the club is the heartbeat of the community. We could go on forever about the socio-economic benefits but there’s an industry to be built there and hopefully now it will,” he said.