League of Ireland elite clubs look to stay on-side with ownership formations

Nine of the 10 clubs fall into three ownership categories: majority shareholder, multiclub model and the members-owned structure

It’s part cautionary tale, part sign of the times, but last summer Shelbourne FC took the plunge.

The sale of a 60 per cent shareholding to Hull City owner Acun Ilicali was framed as the catalyst for a first title since 2006, multiple European city breaks and a refurbished Tolka Park.

“With Damien Duff, it won’t take long,” said Ilicali. “Next season, if you ask me, what is the target? If we are not in Europe I will be disappointed. And why not become the champions? It would not be a miracle.”

Remarkably, Shels did qualify for Europe, but Ilicali was already out the door, cutting ties in early November after it broke that the foreign-based bosses were stalling over the manager’s contract extension. Led by Premier Sports owner Mickey O’Rourke, the board effectively chose Duffer over an injection of cash and resources via Hull.


Two other Irish clubs have embraced the multiclub ownership (MCO) model; Waterford FC paired with Fleetwood Town and Drogheda United just voted for a takeover by Walsall FC’s, US-owned Trivela Group.

Nine of the 10 League of Ireland Premier Division clubs can be split into three ownership categories: the majority shareholder, the multiclub model and the members-owned model.

Multiclub ownership

A recently published Uefa benchmarking report warned that the MCO model could “distort the transfer market” via loan deals.

“It can be harmful to our league as the Irish club will always be the bottom [club in the model],” says Daniel Lambert, Bohemians chief operating officer. “What is the [MCO’s] motivation? There is no real stadium revenue in the league and European prize money is years off [for most clubs]; it would take around €6 million investment in the first team over three years [for any team] to be competitive with Shamrock Rovers, so I’m not really sure what investors expect to get.”

The Trivela Group landed in Drogheda with €500,000 made available to help clear some legacy debt. Benjamin Boycott, a partner at the Alabama-based investment firm, has become co-chairman alongside Joanna Byrne, a lifelong Drogs fan.

“Trivela come with long term plans, for decades of investment, to make the club more sustainable,” said Byrne.

Andrew Pilley purchased Waterford in 2022, only to receive a 13-year prison sentence for fraud last July. The owner of English League One club Fleetwood Town, United Arab Emirates second tier side Fleetwood United and South African third tier side Western Cape Fleetwood, handed control to his family.


Bohemians have 2,800 members. They generated €1.8 million in shirt revenue last year via partnerships with the Bob Marley foundation and Dublin Bus. The club continually seeks to send a percentage of commercial profits to charities, to help children in Gaza and refugees in Ireland.

Sligo Rovers has 820 members with six club officers, including long-serving chairman Tommy Higgins, and are spearheading the Showgrounds rebuild by tapping into two Government grants — the Large Scale Infrastructure fund and Immigrant Investor Programme.

“The ‘problem child’ is a young adult now,” says Higgins. “That was such a disgraceful thing for John Delaney to say but the League of Ireland is fashionable, and when you’re young you go with your tribe. Turning people away on Friday nights — because the Showgrounds is full — only makes them more interested to get in and see what’s happening.”

Would Sligo ever consider changing models?

“We look at all options [fan-owned, multiclub and one owner],” says Higgins. “But you get the wrong person in and they can destroy everything. The German model, where 51 per cent of the club is fan-owned, makes the Bundesliga the best competition in the world for supporters.”

One man (or two brothers)

Since 2007, property developer Garrett Kelleher has owned St Patrick’s Athletic, where he continually reinvests in the first-team squad and academy while pressing for the redevelopment of Richmond Park.

O’Rourke took the reins at Shelbourne last year when the multiclub arrangement with Hull City and Ilicali fell asunder. They are on the cusp of attaining a 250-year lease of Tolka Park for €1.5 million.

Runners-up to Shamrock Rovers in the last two campaigns, Derry City captured the FAI Cup in 2022 thanks to investment from local businessman Philip Doherty.

The Comer brothers, Luke and Brian, have an 85 per cent stake in Galway United with the billionaire builders aiming to build a €40 million training facility near Athenry.

Dundalk just changed ownership for a third time in two years with US-based Dubliner Brian Ainscough taking control at Oriel Park from StatsSports duo Sean O’Connor and Alan Clarke, who previously replaced American firm Peak 6.

Hybrid model

Shamrock Rovers have taken a different approach as two Irish-born businessmen, Dermot Desmond and Ray Wilson, share half the club while the rest belongs to the members, who elect five people to the governance board.