Finn Harps are right smack in the middle when it comes to attendances for senior soccer on the island of Ireland.
The recent extratime.ie report on League of Ireland attendances for 2019 ranked Harps as the tenth best supported of the 20 League of Ireland clubs.
Interestingly, though, there are also details that take in Irish League attendances which give an indication as to the support of clubs when compared on the island of Ireland.
According to the attendance figures for both North and South, Harps come in at number 16 of the 32 teams analysed. Harps’ average attendance for a league game in the 2019 season stood at 1,158.
While the figures are based on a full League of Ireland season, those for the Irish League Premiership (which runs from September to May) are based on the first eight games of the current season.
Nevertheless, with much talk in recent months about a possible all-of-Ireland league at some time in the future, the findings make for interesting reading.
The top five best supported clubs in Ireland are all in the League of Ireland, namely Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, Dundalk, Derry City and Cork City. Linfield come in at number six.
Only one other Irish League club makes the top ten, Linfield’s great Belfast rivals, Glentoran. The other places are filled by Sligo Rovers, St. Patrick’s Athletic and Waterford.
The author of the attendances report, Gareth Penrose, notes that in the event of forming a an All-Ireland 16 team top flight - using attendances to qualify - then it would “consist of nine League of Ireland teams and seven (Northern Ireland) Premiership teams, and, based on the current attendances, would have an average attendance of 2,108.
The lower tier, made up of five Premiership and 11 League of Ireland, would have an average attendance of 604.
However, in the recent speculation about an All-Ireland league - driven by Kenny businessman, Kieran Lucid, and backed by former Irish manager Brian Kerr - the vision is for an effective merger of the League of Ireland and the Irish League with a new 14-team top flight and two ten-regionalised leagues below it.
All the indications are that - whatever way you decided how a team qualifies - Harps would be in the regionalised northern division.
On the plus side, trips below a Dublin to Galway line would most likely become a thing of the past for league games as long as Harps remained in the second tier.
And rather than trips to the likes of Bray Wanderers, Cobh Ramblers, and Wexford, there could be the mouth-watering prospect of heading to see Harps in action at Inver Park against Larne, Taylor’s Avenue against Carrick Rangers, Milltown against Warrenpoint or a derby clash with Institute in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.
In the lower tier, there would be travel savings for Harps and the attendances may well be better than in the League of Ireland First Division.
But for Harps the priority is, of course, about staying in the Premier Division.
Indeed, if Harps can consolidate themselves in the Premier who knows they may even be in the top tier of a new All-Ireland league if it is some more years down the track.
One final point, the figures do not include the Irish League Division One clubs. Among its teams are “sleeping-giants” Portadown (who can command considerable support), and two sides that would be in derby territory for Harps, Ballinamallard from Fermanagh and Dergview from Tyrone.
This article first appeared in the Donegal Post earlier this month.
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