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Association football in the Republic of Ireland


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Association football (Irish: Sacar) also known as football is the team sport with the highest level of participation in the Republic of Ireland (with five-a-side games being included). It is also the third most popular spectator sport overall with 16% of total attendances at sports events, behind only Gaelic football (34%) and hurling (23%). The national governing body for the sport is the Football Association of Ireland, which runs the national football team and the League of Ireland, which is the top level of the sport in the country. The term "football" is used interchangeably in Ireland between association football and Gaelic football. Rugby union, another popular type of football is generally called "rugby", while rugby league, Australian Rules football and American football are niche and minority sports usually referred to by their long title.

For spectators in Ireland, English football is extremely popular compared with the domestic league, with up to 120,000 Irish fans travelling to watch games in the UK each year. Irish school children are commonly seen wearing replica shirts of English league teams. In addition two Scottish football clubs with strong Irish roots, Celtic F.C. and, to a lesser extent, Hibernian F.C. maintain strong followings in Ireland.

In its earliest days, association football was largely confined to the city of Dublin and its surrounding county. Gradually it became more widespread throughout the country, to the point where in the modern day there are clubs in all of the counties of Ireland. Currently, average league attendances at matches in the League of Ireland is around 2,000. Many of the country's top players move to leagues outside of the country, particularly the Premier League in England, which is one of the reasons why significant numbers of locals follow clubs in that league. Having said that, the best Irish players have always followed the best wages. This did not stop the game entering into a "golden period" after the second world war when grounds would be full every weekend to watch a league game. It was the start of televised football in England, and the amateur setup in Ireland, that led to a decrease in attendances and a lack of support for the home teams.

The sport is played at all levels in the country. The national team's performance in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, where they reached the quarter-finals is their best to date.

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