FAI in a tricky spot as Limerick eye up a First Division berth

Pat O’Sullivan has said he has an investment of €500,000 from overseas over three years

Limerick FC chairman Pat O’Sullivan says he has secured investment to be made over three years. Photo: Tom Beary/Inpho

Limerick FC chairman Pat O’Sullivan says he has secured investment to be made over three years. Photo: Tom Beary/Inpho

 

Limerick FC and its chairman, Pat O’Sullivan, have claimed to have lined up an investment of €500,000 from overseas to be made over the coming three years. In a statement issued on Monday, the club says that the money will “secure the future of Limerick Senior, Ladies and Underage soccer”.

The news may be treated with some scepticism at Abbotstown and there will certainly be none of the enthusiasm that would normally accompany an announcement like this. The FAI has only just been forced to back down from its position of declining to allow Limerick FC the opportunity even to apply for a licence to compete in the Airtricity League’s first division for the coming season and had already handed the city’s places in its women’s and underage leagues to a new entity, Limerick United, a club formed on the basis that it would field a senior men’s team in due course too.

The association backed down on Friday with regard to the licence application after two days of talks outside the High Court where Limerick’s case was set out in a remarkable 40-page affidavit lodged by O’Sullivan and published on Twitter last week by Lewis Shaw.

In it, O’Sullivan alleges that despite having invested around €4.5 million in the club over the course of almost a decade, he was treated with “open animosity” by the association last year and that both interim CEO Noel Mooney and Competitions Director Fran Gavin made it clear to him that Limerick would not get a licence which he continued to be involved.

The FAI, which does not come at all well out of Sullivan’s version of events, has not commented on these suggestions but did ultimately agree to allow the club to apply for a licence for 2020, something it had not previously been invited to do, and has also given it some additional time to fulfil the requirements of the process.

The association may well believe that O’Sullivan will now be unable to meet the many requirements set out for a club to obtain a licence but it is nevertheless in a deeply uncomfortable position which appears to have been at least partly of its own making.

With barely a month to go to the start of the new First Division season, and having antagonised all of the division’s other member clubs by admitting a second team from Shamrock Rovers, in part so as to maintain even numbers, it now faces the possibility of having 11 teams in the First Division – something that would cause serious fixture problems – or excluding either Limerick or Shamrock Rovers’ second team.

Either of the latter two scenarios seems virtually certain to result in a new legal challenge while either of the two courses of action that allows the Rovers development team to participate may still provoke a boycott by the other nine clubs.

Drogheda United chairman Conor Hoey is adamant that the dispute is “about ‘B teams’, not Shamrock Rovers,” but, he says, he still does not expect his club to play their second team this coming season.

Last week, the nine clubs collectively wrote to the league saying that in the absence of a vote on the matter by all 19 of the league’s clubs (the outcome of which they say they would accept), they feel Rovers will have to be excluded or they will refuse to fulfil those fixtures.

They would clearly like Limerick’s late survival bid to succeed despite the obvious risks attached in terms of the potential for renewed problems down the line but their worst case scenario is probably the 11 team league which would leave other Premier Division sides sizing up what they would regard as a vacancy for 2021.

The association, meanwhile, finds itself caught between a rock and a very hard place.

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