Declan King recently celebrated his birthday. Many of you will have heard of him, some won’t. He was the sporting voice on several radio stations in times past and latterly has been heavily involved with Christmas station, Radio Snowflake. Where Declan’s dulcet tones would be most recognisable, though, stems from his long association with #Lansdowne Road and into its current incarnation, as stadium announcer.
The Cork resident actually wasn’t on duty in what was then the old ground for my first visit thence in March 1993 but was the voice of majority of my visits thereafter. What would otherwise have been a nondescript friendly against Russia – which ended 0-0 – was given extra prominence as it marked the debuts of Gary Kelly, Phil Babb and Jason McAteer.
There was also the not insignificant matter of yours truly being introduced to Jack Charlton and the entire Irish squad that day. As it happened, Olympic gold medal winning pugilist Michael Carruth was also encountered over at the dressing rooms, but, what can also be clearly recalled is a dread that I would get a mention over the public address. Shyness, believe it or not.
Though sure there was no way he’d remember me, it has been great to have got in contact with Declan again via social media in recent times. Outside of what is now the Aviva Stadium, he has also acted as the PA man in Dalymount Park for a long time.
Now, while initial interest in League Of Ireland football for this hack revolved around a great St Patrick’s Athletic side which included Dunboyne’s Martin Reilly and others like Eddie Gormley and Paul Osam, greatest interest in the domestic game now centres on Bohemians. Albeit with a keen eye kept on Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers and – outside of the Airtricity League – Belvadere FC where many locals continue to make great progress.
It’s only going to a few games that will inform one that the standard of fare is often much better than it gets credit for. Being honest, from a personal perspective, a bit of a GAA connection did no harm in whetting the appetite to become more attuned to the domestic football scene. Namely, former Meath player Gary Rogers who has performed with distinction for several clubs, and Dunboyne GAA physio Cathal Brady who plies his trade with Drogheda United.
Surely it’s worth remembering, too, that such current vaunted talents as Seamus Coleman and Shane Long and Kevin Doyle came off the domestic production line. However, even allowing for the fact that detractors will doubtless deem the moves populist stunts, the return to their home league of former internationals such as Keith Fahey, Damien Duff and, previously to them, Mark Kinsella, can only be a good thing.
The game at the top level in Ireland has plenty going for it. Those of a certain age will recall Stephen Geoghegan being included in an Ireland squad whilst he was with Shelbourne. Many mightn’t admit as much, but, publicity like that can’t be bought. You can be sure that, at the time, there were youngsters who rocked up to Tolka Park and other such stadia on foot of a realisation that a significant impact can be made from that level of football. Yet perhaps it’s only when big names come about that endeavours will gain (deserved) profile.
Charges of populism certainly can’t stick in connection with Duff, who’s already publicly said any money he gets from Shamrock Rovers will be divided between two charities. Nor can they be levelled at Fahey, for whom returning to Richmond Park (before moving on to Rovers where his stay was prematurely ended by injury) was a case of going back to where it all started.
Kinsella’s collaboration with Drogheda is possibly the most intriguing intervention by a former international thus far. The Meath border outfit have struggled in recent times – particularly in comparison to their Louth neighbours under the stewardship of the obviously gifted Stephen Kenny – but the appointment of the former Charlton Athletic midfielder as assistant to Johnny McDonnell last winter was surely a statement of intent.
He has most recently, of course, succeeded McDonnell in the lead role. What he’s also inherited, mind you, is quite the challenge to extricate the residents of Hunky Dory Park from the mire they currently reside in. A position which may actually become a little more exacting as Limerick appear to have run into a bit of form.
What anybody in any walk of life who’s under strain needs is support. Thus, somebody with the profile of Kinsella being at the helm should see a few more come out to support their local team. Yes, it could be said he’s been at the club for a while, but, going from the supporting role into the driving seat gives matters a completely different dynamic.
Diehards and aficionados will always turn out. Just as they do with struggling GAA teams or the downtrodden in any sport. Where the change of tack may occur is that the infusion of big names to the domestic league might encourage new followers to take the leap. And take it from a recent convert – you’ll never know unless you go!