Friday 22 September 2017

Gavin bids to paper over cracks ahead of kick-off

At the launch of the 2011 Airtricity League at the Aviva Stadium yesterday were (from left): Richie Ryan (Sligo Rovers), Dan Murray (Shamrock Rovers), Derek Pender (St Patrick's Athletic), Brian Gannon (Drogheda United), Kevin Deery (Derry City), Gary Dempsey (Bray Wanderers), Paul Sinnott (Galway United), Michael Leahy (UCD),
Simon Madden (Dundalk) and Owen Heary (Bohemians). Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
At the launch of the 2011 Airtricity League at the Aviva Stadium yesterday were (from left): Richie Ryan (Sligo Rovers), Dan Murray (Shamrock Rovers), Derek Pender (St Patrick's Athletic), Brian Gannon (Drogheda United), Kevin Deery (Derry City), Gary Dempsey (Bray Wanderers), Paul Sinnott (Galway United), Michael Leahy (UCD), Simon Madden (Dundalk) and Owen Heary (Bohemians). Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A sunny morning and the spectacular backdrop of the Aviva Stadium set the scene for the launch of the 2011 Airtricity League -- a more attractive picture than the reality in the domestic game at this moment in time.

The new campaign kicks off on Friday, with the prospect of football a welcome distraction from the shenanigans that have again, unfortunately, dominated the off-season.

From the demise of Sporting Fingal to the crises at Bohemians, and the licensing issues at Galway, it's been a testing period for supporters of the domestic game.

And then came the bombshell that prize money was to be slashed, a decision that was justified, in part, because of the cost involved in the association's ongoing legal dispute with Limerick over the cancellation of that friendly game with Barcelona.

Positives

League director Fran Gavin was keen to stress the positives of reduced wages and overall debts, and play down the impact of the drop in prize funds.

This year's champions will collect €100,000 -- a drop from €280,000 in 2009. The trend is repeated down the table, with the total cut in the region of 66pc.

"Overall, the clubs' cost base is down," said Gavin. "In the long term, the effect of prize money being reduced would be very insignificant on the clubs' financial position.

"We need to be prudent. We're looking for the clubs to be prudent, and the association has to be prudent as well."

A source of contention, however, is the extent to which the stand-off with Limerick is being used to justify cutbacks.

It has been rumoured that league clubs were informed that there will be no further news on their continued association with the FAI beyond the end of 2011 until the potentially costly issue with the Shannonsiders is resolved.

Furthermore, some clubs were left with the impression that it was a contributory factor to the prize-money drop.

Gavin was unwilling to get drawn into the specifics of a case which is currently in arbitration. But he said that an update on the plans for 2012 was subject to ruminations by the junior side of the game.

Some delegates are known to have concerns about the cost of running the league. Gavin refused to detail how much cash was involved in 2010.

"Overall, in any court case of procedure, there is a cost in that," he said of the Limerick situation. "Those costs have to come out of somewhere. It's going to come out of the budget that I have. The money goes out of the game in general.

"I'm not really going to talk about the situation. They (Limerick) have made the decision they want to go down this road."

When pressed, Gavin rowed back on the assertion that the expenditure towards fighting Limerick would solely come from league funds.

"Part of it might come out of the budget," he said. "Generally, it's going to come out of an overall FAI budget, and that can affect other areas of the game, including the Airtricity League."

Nevertheless, while clubs are therefore unsure if the game will be under the stewardship of the FAI in 2012, they have been told that 12 teams will contest next season's Premier Division if the relationship continues.

That means the top two in this year's First Division will go up automatically, with the third-placed side facing the bottom team in the Premier in a one-off encounter.

The problem in recent years, of course, is that the promotion/relegation play-off tie has often been made redundant by off-the-pitch matters over the winter, which truly shape the runners and riders.

Can Gavin guarantee the same won't reoccur? "We've looked at clubs' budgets and we've seen what they've forecasted," he said.

"They're in a healthy position, but that's not saying that something external couldn't happen during the year that could affect one club," he added, having pointed out earlier that, with some 1,500 companies going bust around the country, the loss of Sporting Fingal should be put in context.

Success has proved cyclical over the last decade and, right now, Shamrock Rovers are the club to whom the beacon of hope is attached.

They profited from the Fingal demise to add Gary O'Neill and Ronan Finn to their already impressive squad.

Sceptics will ask if the authorities in Tallaght are making the same mistakes as recent title winners by overspending on a bloated squad.

Hoops manager Michael O'Neill, though, is confident they are doing things differently.

"People make the assumption, but they do it without having any facts," he said. "Without divulging what players earn, they are fitting into the structures we have in place.

"I think people would be surprised. At this minute, we're coming in at a budget that is less than last year. We've not been reckless in any shape or form."

Irish Independent

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