Sunday 24 September 2017

FAI target dormant fans for views on direction of league

League chief Fran Gavin said at yesterday’s launch that he wanted the consultation process to be a positive exercise
League chief Fran Gavin said at yesterday’s launch that he wanted the consultation process to be a positive exercise
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The FAI have launched a consultation process with a view to plotting the future direction of the League of Ireland.

Declan Conroy, who oversaw the successful bid to bring Euro 2020 to Dublin and has worked extensively with FIFA and UEFA, will head up a project that will start from next week.

He will meet with all 20 SSE Airtricity League clubs in addition to stakeholders from all strands of the game. Conroy is also particularly keen to canvass the views of the general public, particularly dormant fans who have drifted away.

"One of my key target audiences is to talk to people who may have gone to games in the past but no longer do so," said Conroy yesterday. "The objectives are to get views on how people's local club operates and how the league operates. What will come out of it? Hand on my heart, I don't know."

The administrator anticipates that the consultation process will take two months and he will then present his thoughts to the FAI hierarchy.

This year's campaign officially kicks off next weekend - although defending league champions Dundalk and FAI Cup holders St Patrick's Athletic meet in the President's Cup at Oriel Park this afternoon - and league chief Fran Gavin said at yesterday's launch that he wanted the process to be a positive exercise.

"We want to hear from everybody on it," he said, "It's going to be a serious piece of work, it's not a 'tick the box exercise' - it definitely isn't."

Gavin did face questioning on a series of lingering issues at the Aviva Stadium, not least the controversial carry-over of suspensions which means that six players - including Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail - are banned for next Friday's TV opener between Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic.

The majority are being punished for picking up just four yellow cards in 2014 and, while that threshold has increased to five going forward, the disciplinary system remains deeply unpopular.

"I've never known a manager who is happy to have a player suspended in the first place and I think that's where a lot of the criticism comes from," claimed Gavin. "I'm sure that's going to be part of the consultation because I've had several discussions with the managers."

The prize-money levels remain unchanged this year, although Gavin said that FAI CEO John Delaney is in discussions with a potential new sponsor that could increase the fund.

"We should have news on that over the next six weeks," he continued. "Any income from that will go on top of the sponsorship. And we'd like to see some of that going towards clubs doing community projects."

No update was provided on the status of the Setanta Cup, while he admitted that work needed to be done to bring Jackman Park up to standard after Limerick confirmed a short-term move there due to the delay on the completion of Markets Field.

"We're looking at the bigger picture there," he said. "We see it as an interim position that Jackman Park would be okay. It's not perfect, there is work to be done on it."

Gavin added that 26 clubs from outside the SSE Airtricity League, including some of the country's top schoolboy nurseries, have expressed interest in the new national U-17 league which will launch next August.

He said that all current Premier and First Division clubs will be represented in a regionalised structure once the final number of participants is confirmed.

"It's not that we're saying they have to enter it, they want to enter it," said Gavin. "We'll regionalise it to cut down costs."

Meanwhile, Ireland defender Shane Duffy will miss the rest of Blackburn Rovers' season after undergoing surgery on a knee problem.

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