Sunday 4 December 2016

League set for extended campaign in 2017 season

Published 22/09/2016 | 02:30

FAI Competition Director Fran Gavin has revealed the length of the regular League of Ireland season is likely to be extended from next year. Photo: Sportsfile
FAI Competition Director Fran Gavin has revealed the length of the regular League of Ireland season is likely to be extended from next year. Photo: Sportsfile

FAI competitions director Fran Gavin has revealed that the length of the regular League of Ireland season is likely to be extended from next year.

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Gavin has indicated that the 2017 campaign could start towards the end of February with a shorter summer break - Euro 2016 was the driving force behind a longer mid-term this year.

The authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of the fixture chaos which could yet jeopardise plans to finish the regular league season on Friday, October 28.

Gavin says that the FAI are still planning to conclude the title race on that date, but Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny hinted after his side's 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers that a Sunday or Monday finish might transpire.

His team's European run has led to fixtures piling up, while rivals Cork City also have a hectic schedule arising from call-ups to Noel King's U-21 squad.

Dundalk have to play eight league matches - and two Europa League group games - between now and October 28, while Cork have nine league games left.

The fact that both teams remain in the FAI Cup is an added complication as if either of their semi-finals go to a replay then it would rule out another date.

Gavin suggested that a 'contingency plan' is in place in that event or if bad weather forces the cancellation of any fixtures.

"It's a difficult thing to do and you are not going to please everybody," said Gavin. "We want to make sure that it's a level playing field when it comes to the business end of the season.

"And also to see how we can assist Dundalk to do as well as they can and being as prepared as well as they can be for their games in Europe. It's a huge thing for us to try to do that.

"So it's trying to get the balance right and that's a difficult thing to do. It's so far, so good. At the moment, the Friday is what we are aiming for. But there could be FAI Cup replays and maybe postponements due to bad weather, they all come into the mix."

John Caulfield believes that the FAI have favoured Dundalk because they were able to bring a fixture forward to suit their schedule, but Gavin said he had spoken amicably with the Cork manager. "They all want what's best for their clubs and I understand that," he said. "There's a bit of mind games going on around the place."

The crucial Oriel Park meeting between Dundalk and Cork is one of the games that has yet to be arranged. They both made good progress in Europe this year with Dundalk still going and Gavin says that an elongated campaign would make it easier to accommodate repeat performances.

Proliferation

Other clubs have also complained about the proliferation of midweek fixtures which attract poor crowds.

The flip side of the equation is that smaller outfits prefer a tight campaign to cut costs and stick to 36- to 40-week contracts.

"These are good challenges to have," said Gavin, who was speaking at the launch of the new third-level football season. "There's a recognition that as our teams do better in Europe, you need to look at the structure of the league.

"Over the next few weeks we'll make some announcements around that, particularly around starting the league a little bit earlier. That's a possibility from next year.

"How clubs structure it (payments) is their own internal thing. We are getting feedback that the season is very tight and can we not stretch it a bit more so we're listening to that."

Irish Independent

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