Daniel McDonnell: Mervue could land FAI in mess
First Division side have every right to cry foul should their promotion bid be dashed by Abbotstown's 'wise men'
THE last time a promotion play-off ended up being of no significance to the winner, an angry fan wound up in FAI headquarters with a can of petrol threatening to burn the place down.
Mervue United lack Dundalk's support base, so there should be no need for the Abbotstown authorities to put security on high alert this Christmas.
Nevertheless, it will be equally as embarrassing for FAI HQ if the Galwegians come through this Friday's second leg with Longford – they lead 1-0 after the first leg – and then triumph in the decider with the 11th-placed Premier League side.
Appropriately, the 2006 fiasco arose from the old Galway United getting the nod at Dundalk's expense as part of the merger of the league with the FAI. Their subsequent collapse laid the foundations for a protracted saga which we've dealt with on these pages before.
In many respects, it would be a fitting conclusion to a bizarre chapter if the players and management of Mervue, who finished third in this year's second tier, succeeded in creating a nightmare November for the authorities by earning promotion on merit.
The official line is that Mervue could still apply for a top-flight licence if their fine end-of-season form continues for three more games.
However, the FAI are committed to the process of establishing a single senior club in the city of the Tribes, which would represent supporters of the old Galway United and also have input from Mervue and Salthill Devon.
If the wise men are to sort out a problem which is largely of their own creation then they have to stick with that plan and aim to have the new entity kicking off 2014 in the First Division – which means that if Mervue do the business on the pitch over the next fortnight, post-season chaos ensues.
These are the kind of PR disasters that the FAI want to erase from the domestic picture.
Although the drop in playing standards was reflected by European struggles, there have been positives to take from 2013, with an open title race providing plenty of twists and turns. The imminent arrival of Athlone at the top table gives the midlanders the chance to join Dundalk and Limerick in the 'resurgent regional powers' category.
Going forward, however, the two-tier structure is the elephant in the room. When Shelbourne's relegation was confirmed on Friday, the messages of consolation had an ominous ring, as though the sympathisers knew their kind words were the equivalent of offering encouragement to a condemned man bound for the guillotine.
There is precious little consolation to be taken from dropping to the First Division, no parachute payments to soften the blow.
It is the last rung of the ladder before extinction, where the only hope, the only reason to keep going, is the prospect of escaping it.
As it stands, seven teams will compete at that level in 2014 – although Wexford Youths recently received a five-figure donation from Kevin Doyle in order to stay afloat – with the FAI throwing open the application process in an attempt to attract an extra body.
Mervue's experience this term hardly serves as a glowing advertisement. League of Ireland status should mean something and letting teams in to make up the numbers under the presumption they'll never be good enough to achieve anything demeans the product.
The First Division is an unglamorous level, rightly ignored by RTE's 'Monday Night Soccer' until the final weeks because the small crowds and poor facilities would cement a negative stereotype of the domestic game.
Mervue, as a brand, are not what the Premier Division requires. But after a long season travelling around the country with no support and little fanfare, and spending a lot of money for the privilege, their players find themselves in a surreal situation and you couldn't blame them for using the injustice as a team talk.
Understandably, the fans and officials of Shelbourne will be feeling pretty down this week but as they prepare for another slog in the division that time forgot, there is one positive to be gleaned from Mervue's plight.
At least when the Dubliners pay their money to participate in 2014, they will have entered a raffle they can actually win.