There is always great solidarity among fans in the league to support whoever is representing them in Europe (sometimes even Shamrock Rovers will find support from other clubs). This is not just altruistic or nationalistic. All clubs have a stake in the European results because they go towards calculating the UEFA country ranking coefficient which is used for seeding in subsequent tournaments. So the poor showing by this year's teams will have an impact on the clubs representing the league, not just next year but over the next 5 years as the country coefficient is the aggregate of 5 years' country coefficients.
The Irish performance in European competitions down the years has been pretty dismal. Most of the victories have been of the moral variety. This may not be surprising given that the league has been semi-professional for most of its history. When making the step up to the next level the Irish clubs have been found wanting.
There are a couple of interesting details to take from an analysis of our record in Europe though. The graph below has an index showing Ireland's ranking among the clubs each year based on the country coefficient for that season. The country coefficient is calculated as the average score for all clubs from that country in European competition that season. This ranking is expressed as a percentage of the number of countries who participated in European competition in that season. So for example, if Ireland was ranked as 16th with 32 countries participating it would have a score of 0.5. If it was the lowest ranked country it would have a score of 1. The lower the index the better.
It's necessary to create an index as the number of countries participating in UEFA competitions has increased hugely from 32 in 1969 to 53 this year.
The European dividend from summer football (where the teams playing in European competition will be well into their season compared to opponents who will be just starting a new season) seemed to be evident in the middle 2000s. This has evaporated and it would seem the real source of Irish success in Europe was due to the move to full-time squads. The picture above shows Wes Hoolahan against La Coruna - a player who is now an established Premier League player and who is touted as the key player for the national team. This is not good news for the future as the League has moved back, by and large, to a semi-professional status with many clubs still reeling from the excesses of the professional era.
The bad news not shown on the graph is that this year will see Irish clubs complete the fall to the lowest rank teamed in European competition as all of our clubs have now been knocked out so we cannot gain any more ranking points. And we sit at 53rd spot among the UEFA nations for this year's tournaments below the mighty Andorra, San Marino, Faroe Islands and Lichtenstein.