Divisions emerge between clubs over a viable future plan
SHARP DIVISIONS have emerged between Airtricity League clubs over the structure of next year’s competition with alarm at the prospect of the First Division having just seven teams growing to the extent that Waterford United officials have threatened to follow Monaghan United’s lead and simply walk away if something is not done.
At a meeting of clubs from around the country in Abbotstown on Tuesday, United chairman John O’Sullivan said his club would not be able to sustain senior football for another year unless things are changed dramatically.
As things stand, the plan for next season is to have a 12-team top flight leaving just seven in the First Division, a situation even some of the leading clubs acknowledge is ultimately unsustainable for those in the second tier.
Waterford have proposed that all 19 teams compete in one division and that, as well as the status quo, is to be considered by a subcommittee comprised of representatives of five clubs including Shamrock Rovers, Athlone Town and UCD which is to meet next Wednesday.
It is expected to deliver a report weighing up the pros and cons of both formats to another meeting of all the clubs at the start of September. The hope is agreement can be reached at that meeting on a proposal to be sent to the National League Executive Committee which is scheduled to meet just one week later.
However, the prospect of any agreement being reached seemed a little far-fetched yesterday with some leading clubs insisting that a 12-team format for the Premier Division has been already been agreed for next season and no expansion of the top flight would be acceptable beyond that.
The likes of Waterford and, it is believed, Longford Town favour dramatic change while some of the biggest clubs, like Shamrock Rovers would, it seems, ideally prefer a 10-team top flight.
While discussions on how to proceed appear to be at a very early stage, there is some suggestion that a compromise proposal might emerge advocating the possibility of a single league that splits part of the way through the season.
There also seems to be a widespread acceptance that, whatever happens, 19 is not a good number of members for a league.
With potential takers for vacancies pretty thin on the ground in the current economic climate, there is a feeling numbers may have to be cut, whether through mergers, the raising of licensing standards to the point where some would simply fail or some other method.
Several of those centrally involved in the current debate declined to comment yesterday but Pat Devlin of Bray Wanderers, a long-time advocate of a single, unified division, said the parlous finances of most clubs has made radical change a must.
“Sponsorship, attendances, everything’s been really badly hit over the last couple of years and so we need change right across the board,” he said.
“I don’t think a lot of clubs can survive the way things are going and the top three or four can’t play on their own. They are going to have to take the views of the smaller clubs into account.”