The FAI has received assurances from the Government that financial support will be available to the game over the coming year, although there was no agreement on any specifics, at a meeting on Thursday between the leading figures from the association and Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers.
FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill and chairman Roy Barrett seem not to have made any request for a specific amount of funding, but rather outlined the financial challenges currently facing the organisation as the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt.
Afterwards, on social media, the Minister described the meeting as a “positive engagement” and said that he had “made clear the Government’s support for the return of the League of Ireland”. He also said that he had also provided assurances that the Government will “provide additional supports in the period ahead” for the wider game.
With €3.6 million promised to clubs by the association and close to as much again likely to be drawn down in wage supports if spectators continue to be excluded and that scheme stays in place for the duration of the campaign, the season is expected to start as scheduled in mid-March.
A number of clubs have suggested that the money will not be enough to see them through, but the message from Chambers on behalf of the Government on Thursday seems to have been that help will be available when it is needed.
The association is, it is understood, in a position to deliver on the commitments it has made so far, but the expectation within the organisation is that further public funds will, in the current circumstances, be required over the course of the coming year.
The association announced Bank of Ireland as a sponsor of its senior leagues and cups on Thursday, although it had been expected the bank would provide some sort of backing since the two parties agreed a refinancing of the association’s debt more than a year ago.
Speaking at the announcement, Dundalk manager Filippo Giovagnoli said that the club still hopes to add another two or three players before the start of the coming season.
We want to give the opportunity to young players to challenge themselves here in this league. We want to win and we want to develop players
Although both he and his Shamrock Rovers opposite number, Stephen Bradley, confirmed that Richie Towell will be a target in the summer when the Salford City midfielder's contract is up, Giovagnoli suggested that signings over the coming weeks are all likely to be from abroad, adding to an Oriel Park overseas contingent that already includes players from Latvia, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Norway and Albania.
“The club has a vision to become a more international club and they asked us to recruit more from outside,” explained Giovagnoli. “We are looking to respect that vision of the owners. We are looking to complete the squad and we are going to do it soon.
“I think Eastern and Northern Europe are good places to look. There are strong, young players who have experience of playing in their national teams and they look at the League of Ireland as an opportunity to come here, to be competitive, win trophies, develop, then go on to the next level.
“That fits in with the club’s vision. It wants to give the opportunity to young players to challenge themselves here in this league. We want to win and we want to develop players.”
Dundalk continue to work towards the signing of South Korea’s Han Eui-kwon, a winger, and Towell is “a target” – although Giovagnoli said that he believes the player wants to see out his current contract in England.
Stephen Bradley, meanwhile, admitted that he too “likes” the 29-year-old and said that talks are ongoing with Graham Burke about a deal when his contract with Preston runs out, also in the summer.
The new sponsorship will provide support for the league’s “More than a Club” programme, an initiative that was trialled successfully a couple of years back at Cork City and Bohemians until the funding ran out.
“It’s designed to help clubs develop their ‘football in the community’ programmes,” said Derek O’Neill, the FAI’s community development manager, who will oversee the scheme. “The intention is for clubs to get more involved in the areas of health, education and social inclusion so that they can become more relevant in their local communities.
“The aim is for clubs to end up with full-time community development officers – but it won’t happen overnight. Some clubs have already done great work in these areas but most clubs are only on the starting blocks in terms of community engagement.”