Monday 23 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'FAI tweak barely scratches surface of new season's uneven calendar'

Vinny Perth. Photo: Sportsfile
Vinny Perth. Photo: Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell

The fact that the release of the fixtures for the new SSE Airtricity League campaign comes in the middle of a ridiculously long off-season is appropriate.

It unveils a schedule which backs up the viewpoint that Irish football's calendar is deeply flawed.

The change to a ten-team Premier Division has presented logistical difficulties for the authorities given that it entails a 36-game season.

In the First Division, they play just three rounds of games which eases the logjam - although it also means that sides who fail to make the play-off series are effectively out of action for half the year. That's not the ideal way to run a functioning business.

The 2018 schedule was criticised because of the frontloading which meant that 24 matches out of 36 were effectively crammed in before the mid-season break.

Last season's problems were exacerbated by the cold snap in March, but the FAI curiously decided to refix the lost games before June.

League director Fran Gavin said yesterday that feedback from the clubs led to tweaks to the schedule for the 2019 season.

Premier Division sides will not enter the EA Sports Cup until the second round which appears a sensible move.

Suffer

But the decision to move one of the midweek rounds to after the break doesn't dramatically alter the picture because it comes just after the resumption of action.

It still creates a sprint to the summer which is followed out by a very spaced-out conclusion which basically means that clubs that get knocked out of the FAI Cup early will suffer the consequences.

The FAI Cup weekends are spaced out by a fortnight in the autumn and no league matches are scheduled to clash with the latter rounds.

It's possible that rescheduling related to European matches will be required at that juncture, but that's based on luck rather than planning.

In 2018, Sligo Rovers were pencilled in for an extraordinary 11-week gap between home league matches.

This year, a promoted Finn Harps side that will face a test of their resources to compete with established Premier sides kick off the year knowing that they will not play a home match in the month of September unless they are in the FAI Cup quarter-finals or semi-finals.

Indeed, just six Premier League matches will be played in the months of September and October.

That's a dramatic contrast from a 14-day period at the end of April bleeding into May where five fixtures will be played.

This is a massive advantage to full-time sides that have control over their players' rest and recovery.

As a counterpoint, the FAI would argue that part-time sides want a shorter season because it means they don't have to pay players for as long.

It's far from an ideal situation; the powers that be would also argue they need to have the season finished ahead of the FAI Cup final in the first weekend of November; a date tied in with the availability of the Aviva Stadium for rugby commitments.

However, the Rugby World Cup means there will be no November internationals next year.

Harps start their Premier return away to Bohs on February 15, while UCD are away in Derry. Vinny Perth will start his Dundalk reign at home to Sligo Rovers, while St Patrick's Athletic host Cork City and Shamrock Rovers travel to Waterford.

Irish Independent

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