St Patrick's and St Francis to be Dublin Saints
St Francis' secretary Alan Duncan last night denied that the first division club had lost its identity following a merger with Dublin neighbours St Patrick's Athletic.
The new club will be known as St Patrick's Athletic Incorporating St Francis, nicknamed "Dublin Saints". They will play first team games at St Patrick's current home Richmond Park with St Francis' ground, John Hyland Park at Baldonnel, being used by the new club's under-21 team.
The National League yesterday accepted St. Francis' resignation from the league at an emergency meeting, thus leaving the first division with only nine teams for the coming season.
St Francis, who finished bottom of the first division, were only re-elected to the league at its a.g.m. in May and Duncan was voted onto the FAI's Board of Management, ironically replacing St Patrick's secretary Phil Mooney. Mooney, however, will remain secretary of the amalgamated club with Duncan its representative on the FAI.
The National League appeared as surprised as everyone else concerning the merger, though negotiations between the clubs have apparently been ongoing for some considerable time.
"We are as much in the dark about this as everyone else," said league secretary Donal Crowther. "We will decide what needs to be done regarding the first division at a later date." On the surface there appears to be little gain in the merger for St Francis, though Duncan refutes that utterly.
"We have not lost our identity or our league status. We have joined a bigger club. We are still St Francis. We've gained more than we could have hoped to gain in the first division. We finished bottom last season, now we are playing in the Premier. What club has done that anywhere?
"St Francis is a well established name. Our fans will still be going to see St Francis. Our name now becomes synonymous with St Patrick's Athletic."
St Patrick's chief executive Pat Dolan will manage the National League team with John Noonan, the former St Francis manager, joining the coaching staff. All 12 of St Francis' underage teams will be incorporated into the St Patrick's Athletic youth set-up.
St Francis' ground at Baldonnel, worth an estimated £6million, will not be sold to finance a rebuilding programme at Richmond Park.
"The ground at Baldonnel is quite valuable but it will stay in the hands of St Francis," said Duncan. "There is no chance of it being sold to finance a stadium anywhere else. There is the possibility that we may sit down and decide that the place to go is John Hyland Park and have our 'Stadium of Light' there. That is a possibility."
As models dressed as St Francis and St Patrick arrived at the City West Hotel in a helicopter, Dolan was bullish about the venture. "This is probably the most exciting concept that we have seen in Irish football for a long time," said Dolan.
"We are both Saints, we are both in Dublin 8 and the river Camac flows past our grounds. A merger couldn't be more natural." Central defender Kieran Foley, out of contract at Galway United, last night became the club's first new signing.