First Division fixtures announced but 10-team format leaves new teams in limbo
FAI leave options open should clubs be granted a licence
Tommy Barrett is to take charge of Treaty City after having managed Limerick FC. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Shelbourne will kick off their campaign for a swift return to the top flight with a trip to First Division promotion rivals Galway United while Cork City start the season with a derby game against Cobh Ramblers, but perhaps the most significant aspect of the fixture list issued by the FAI on Monday is the fact that there are just 10 teams in it.
With the association yet to confirm whether Shamrock Rovers had been successful in retaining a spot for their second team, both Treaty United and Dublin County have been waiting on news of their applications to join the league with the most obvious route in being as the replacement for the development side.
An expansion to 12 teams is possible but considered a long shot and for the moment the association has stuck with 10, leaving Bray Wanderers to wait on news of which of the three entities they will be hosting at the Carlisle Grounds on March 26th.
Given the importance of restoring senior football to the city of Limerick, Treaty United are expected the front runners to be given the go ahead. The second Rovers team, which had been admitted last season in the face of strong opposition from other clubs, remains a viable option but there would be less appetite for taking a chance on the other prospective new entrant which would be based in north Dublin, an area where a couple of hopefuls have previously ultimately failed to survive at senior level.
Officially, a final decision is not expected until February 23rd, leaving the clubs just four and half weeks to assemble a squad, something that would pose particular challenging for the two new entities. Treaty took the first obvious step in their preparations over the weekend when they confirmed the appointment of Tommy Barrett, who had been in charge when Limerick FC exited the league, as their manager.
Barrett has been working with the club’s youth set up and it would be expected that he would continue to oversee that if the club’s bid to field a senior men’s team this season is rejected on this occasion.
The timeframe being set for clubs is remarkable, though. Deciding who is going to be in the league a year in advance and so giving the club the opportunity to do all of the groundwork on both the football and commercial sides of things would seem to be a far more reasonable approach.
Instead, clubs are currently having to hold off on signing players while, in the case of Treaty United and Dublin County at least, having to approach potential sponsors on the basis that they might have a League of Ireland team to back in less than two months’ time.
As it happens, the First Division looks like it will be particularly competitive this season with relegated sides Cork City and Shelbourne likely to be very strong by the usual standards, Galway United having invested heavily to back manager John Caulfield and the likes of Bray Wanderers, UCD, Cabinteely and Cobh Ramblers all expecting to be competitive.
That, of course, would not necessarily be entirely good news for a new club with a hastily assembled squad.
Opening fixtures – March 26th: Bray Wanderers v TBC, Cork City v Cobh Ramblers, Galway United v Shelbourne, UCD v Athlone Town, Wexford v Cabinteely.