Wednesday 21 August 2019

Action needed to follow positive talk on League of Ireland's future

FAI General Manager for Football Services and Partnerships Noel Mooney in Abbotstown
FAI General Manager for Football Services and Partnerships Noel Mooney in Abbotstown

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Why are we here, and where are we going? They are questions that were asked more than once over the weekend as a gathering of individuals, who are trying to plan a way ahead for the much-maligned League of Ireland, faced and tried to answer puzzles.

With the sun shining around the FAI's Abbotstown complex, and the lure of top-class sporting events in GAA, cricket and tennis on TV, and thoughts of nourishing barbecues and cool drinks in beer gardens and back gardens, spending a weekend in a stuffy conference room pondering the state of the game here was a test of endurance and concentration.

Yet, feedback from those taking part in a weekend-long seminar for League of Ireland clubs was positive.

Where are we going? Well, we probably wouldn't start from here, but we are where we are, to mesh a few clichés into one, as the senior league in Ireland tries to find a future.

Outsiders

Last weekend in Abbotstown the 'new' FAI stressed its newness. A batch of people from the League of Ireland club scene shared a forum, with not just FAI officials but outsiders too. Representatives of the players, managers, supporters and referees were also invited in, not just to listen but to speak as well.

And there was a lot to take in. One delegate complained that clubs were missing out on "soft money" from TV deals as there is no TV revenue, to speak of, for clubs here.

There were some home truths. "Financial sustainability is a major concern," said Dundalk official Martin Connolly.

"The business model that we are all operating under is completely flawed at the moment," was the assessment of Sligo Rovers delegate David Rowe.

What happens next? Well, a working group made up of an official from eight clubs (Cork City, Derry City, Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Bray Wanderers, Drogheda United and Galway United) will break off to assess the weekend's work, carry on further talks with the outside parties (Niall Quinn and Kieran Lucid) who are looking for a way into the League of Ireland, and then report back in early August with more detail of what the two groups are actually proposing.

"There is a very tight timeline to decide all of this," said interim FAI chief, Noel Mooney. "We have to have a long-term vision for the league, but we need to make decisions pretty soon."

By October, there should be a clearer picture of where the LoI is going, if anywhere.

The lack of detail in the Quinn group is a concern, though seats on the FAI board for some of the Quinn party could be a way to keep them involved.

A key part of the Lucid plan is that the current football scene will be replaced by what he calls an all-island league.

It would be a concern, though, that the IFA and UEFA, key partners in any plan, have not yet been approached, certainly not in any detail.

"Looking to the 2020 season, the clubs need to know what they are playing for," says Mooney.

"We'd like the clubs to make a decision in September/October time so we can see what they are playing for in 2020."

It's way too much to have it all boxed off in time for an all-island league in 2021.

While there are northern voices in Lucid's plan, it is seen by many across the border as southern-led. And our history does tell us that Free Staters telling those in the North how things have to be done does not go down well.

There is a lot to be done. A suggestion over the weekend that the League of IReland follow the Dutch model and have UEFA revenue spread from the clubs competing in Europe to the other clubs was shot down, and PFAI demands for a minimum wage will be met with horror by some clubs.

It's good to talk, but it will take a lot more talk, and action, to turn the League of Ireland into something capable of survival.

Irish Independent

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