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League of Ireland clubs who refuse to return and finish season face relegation - but opposition mounts

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Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers will battle it out for the title when play resumes

Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers will battle it out for the title when play resumes

SPORTSFILE

Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers will battle it out for the title when play resumes

The FAI have told League of Ireland Premier Division clubs that they are facing relegation if they opt against a return to play in 2020.

A letter sent to clubs late on Thursday night confirmed it is a move that the Abbotstown authorities are willing to take in the attempts to resolve the impasse around a comeback.

But independent.ie has learned that a group of Premier clubs are coming together to mount a response stating they will object if the FAI impose a playing format where two top flight sides would potentially suffer relegation. St Patrick's Athletic owner Garrett Kelleher is a vocal member of that contingent.

The missive from the FAI - which was signed by their legal department - outlines the approach that will be taken if clubs cannot agree on a format for restarting the season.

In previous meetings, there had been indications that there would be no repercussions if individual clubs opted against a return.

But the FAI letter confirms that they are now prepared to take a harder line.

They told league members that "Any club deciding not to finish the 2020 season will have their points zeroised and will be relegated at the end of the season in line with provisions of the Participation Agreement."

However, the FAI release does not detail the format they would apply to settle the thorny issue of promotion and relegation - the main issue holding up progress this week after an improved compensation package largely eased financial fears.

Instead, the circular says that the FAI Board and the National League Executive Committee will take the decision 'in the best interests of Irish football' if there is no compromise reached by Premier and First Division sides.

The FAI sought legal guidance after it became clear that a harder line would have to be taken in an attempt to advance plans for a July 31 restart.

However, this move has prompted a reaction from sides who are on the fence about a comeback and the growing belief is that the debate will spill over into early next week.

Sligo Rovers and Waterford are opposed to relegation, while Cork City also have concerns and would lean towards a playoff for the side that finishes bottom.

St Patrick's Athletic have also expressed concerns about the overall 2020 plans and it's understood that Kelleher - who made headlines last week for his criticism of the FAI's Gary Owens and Niall Quinn - has been involved in correspondence between the six Premier sides who won't participate in European football this term.

It's believed that a couple of those clubs are willing to say they will not play if the FAI present a structure that could see two sides go down, and they have sought to get others on board before writing to the league hierarchy to fully articulate their stance.

The original plan for the 36 game season was that the bottom side goes down automatically, with second from bottom facing a playoff to save themselves. But this group of clubs will argue that 20pc of the top flight should not be vulnerable to suffering the catastrophic blow of relegation in a season that is half the normal length.

First Division sides want guarantees that their champions will be promoted, but that would mean that a Premier Division team has to go unless there is a push to extend the top flight to 12 teams for 2021.

But leading Premier sides want some form of relegation to be in the equation as they feel the remainder of the abridged 18 game campaign would lack integrity if teams at the bottom had no motivation.

All parties remain hopeful that an amicable conclusion can be reached, but officials are increasingly coming around to the view that the FAI will have to make the decisive calls.

There is now a move towards finishing the regular campaign on the weekend of November 7.

And the FAI Cup would be saved with a change in format that would exclude non-league sides from participating in this year's renewal.

The quarter finals, semi-finals, and final would be played out in the weeks after the conclusion of the league with prizemoney weighted in such a way that it would benefit those clubs who have to extend contracts in order to participate.

But the final may not take place in the Aviva Stadium with costs and the availability around rugby dates presenting complications.

Online Editors