Clubs leagues apart as FAI to continue with 12-team Premier Division
FIRST DIVISION clubs are facing an anxious wait to see how things will shape up in the second tier of the Airtricity League for next season after the FAI confirmed yesterday that it intends to stick with a 12-team top flight in 2013.
The decision comes as no great surprise given the potential legal difficulties involved in trying to change the structure of the competition at such short notice and the fact that the league’s 19 clubs were more or less evenly divided on how best to proceed.
But it means if Abbotstown fails in an attempt to recruit new clubs to the national league over the coming months then the first division might be restricted to just seven sides with one of the current eight going to make up numbers in the Premier Division.
“I’m glad that there’s been some sort of decision,” said Athlone Town chief executive John O’Sullivan, “but our main concern now is whether we’ll have additional clubs in the first division. The last time we all sat down and talked there wasn’t a lot of clarity as to where the clubs were going to come from and the one thing that everybody, the entire 19 clubs, was agreed on was that a seven team division wasn’t feasible.”
That, however, remains a distinct possibility with league director Fran Gavin expressing the hope that clubs willing and able to join the senior ranks will come forward before a likely mid October deadline for expressions of interest but acknowledging that league officials will “just deal with what happens”.
Gavin, who claims top-flight attendances have increased by around 10 per cent this season, is upbeat about the prospects of expanding a division that most of the current participants want to scrap in favour of a single league involving all of the country’s senior clubs, but he admits that would-be candidates might well be deterred by the scale of the commitment involved.
“It is a big commitment but it’s the highest standard of football in the country,” says Gavin. “There generally isn’t a shortage of interest but it does tend to come down to a question of whether they can operate at the level that we require.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what comes in by the deadline. Ideally we would like to increase the number, though, and what has definitely come across in the meetings with the clubs is the clubs’ frustration with having an uneven number and everything that goes with that.”
Gavin didn’t rule out the possibility, however, that numbers could even be reduced with a report on the situation in Galway – where supporters of Galway United are hoping to revive their club’s senior status but both Mervue United and SD Galway have been struggling to grow their support significantly from a very limited base – is due to be presented to “stakeholders” in the city on Thursday week.
“We have to respect the confidentiality of the process,” said Gavin, “but I would say that from our point of view both SD Galway and Mervue have been exemplary in the way they have conducted themselves.”
The league’s problems were compounded this year by the resignation of Monaghan United, a path officials at Waterford United, threatened to follow if the current structure wasn’t abandoned.
Gavin acknowledged the threat but said that, while he is anxious not to lose any other clubs, there are limitations to what can be done to placate them “. . . Waterford has a great history and we’re here to help the club but we have to look at the league as a whole.”