It has been tough being a football fan in the Republic of Ireland in recent years, with the men’s international team failing to progress to the last three major tournaments.
While numerous factors have contributed to the current struggles, the main issue impacting the country’s international aspirations is the lack of a strong domestic league.
With the standard of the League of Ireland lagging a long way behind many other competitions in Europe, top Irish players have historically been forced to ply their trade overseas.
However, the globalisation of football has reduced their opportunities, particularly on the previously well worn path between the Emerald Isle and England.
Despite this, the youth coaching and development structure continues to focus on exporting players, primarily because the domestic league is not fit for purpose.
A quick look at similar-sized nations highlights what can be achieved when sufficient resources are ploughed into the football infrastructure.
Portugal’s success at the 2016 European Championships in France was a remarkable achievement for a country with a population of around ten million.
They not only have an excellent system in place for producing top-class coaches, but also have a top flight league that is worthy of the name.
While clubs such as Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon inevitably grab most of the headlines, many others have made their mark at home and abroad.
The Primeira Liga has become firmly established as one of the most respected domestic leagues in Europe – a point highlighted by the links it has forged with associated sectors.
Games in the Portuguese top flight are regularly broadcast on BT Sport, while most of the leading online bookmakers offer a vast array of odds on all the games.
By contrast, the League of Ireland often struggles for air time, meaning the clubs do not benefit from the vast broadcast revenues floating around the sport.
However, there is clearly plenty of interest among football bettors in the league, with many of them willing to bet on Irish football during the season.
To make the competition more appealing to a wider audience, football development in Ireland needs overhauling and the top league involved in the conversation.
Investment in coaching must be a top priority and following the model laid down in Portugal would not be a bad starting point.
There are plenty of talented young footballers in Ireland, but they are repeatedly being let down by a development system that has failed to move with the times.
When you consider that the Dublin District Schoolboys League is one of the biggest in Europe, it beggars belief that Irish football has fallen so far behind many other similar sized nations.
As Albert Einstein once famously said, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’.
Portugal’s coaching and development set-up is undoubtedly a useful example of what can be achieved with a little foresight.
All Irish football needs now, is someone to take the bull by the horns and drag the sport firmly into the 21st century.