As I watched the BBC TV match reports on Saturday evening I was struck by the number of fading (and some who never actually glowed in the first place) League of Ireland players who are choosing to spend their declining years up North.
And it set me to thinking about the turnaround in fortunes since those halcyon days when we played up here.
In those days Derry City’s record against southern sides was impressive to say the least.
In competitions like the Blaxnit and Texaco we pretty well demolished all round us and a Coleraine team in which Tony Doc played, actually won the Blaxnit on TWO occasions!
In the Texaco we won the Irish section by trouncing Limerick, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers in two leg games before eventually going out to Wolves – also in a two leg tie.
So what has happened to reverse so strikingly the balance of power between the two associations?
It may be a bit simplistic to say so but my own very strong opinion was that it is all a result of ‘The Troubles’. At the beginning, and most intense period, of the disturbances, there was quite a pronounced period when, for whatever reasons (perceived or otherwise), the populace retreated into their own ‘camps’.
In Derry, for instance, there was a huge exodus of the Protestant population from the west bank to the Waterside. Much to be regretted, but a fact nevertheless. And sport was not exempt from this movement.
Catholics tended to gravitate towards Gaelic games while the Protestant community moved to what were perceived to be the mainly Protestant pursuits of rugby and cricket.
Soccer being the most obviously ‘mixed’ game was the main casualty; the piggy-in-the-middle as it were.
The result of all of this is that the Irish League is now very much the poor relation to the point where a huge club like Linfield no longer take part in the Setanta Cup knowing that they wouldn’t be competitive.
And most of the former Derry City players – with the exception of Barry Molloy – who ply their trade ‘up north’ are there because of failing to make the starting 11 at Brandywell. Neil McCafferty, David McDaid, Ciaran Martin, David Scullion,Ruairi Harkin, Ruaidhri Higgins and a few more are among the top performers despite no longer being able to command a first team spot with the ‘Candy Stripes’.
But is there a likelihood of this balance being redressed anytime in the near future? Unlikely.
The great explosion in the popularity of soccer in the south following the exploits of Jack Charlton’s men in the eighties, and the fact that the population of the Republic is three times that of Northern Ireland would seem to indicate that it will be an uphill battle.