July 31st looks set to be the day when the League of Ireland will return. As of now relegation is set to work as intended at the start of the season. 10th in the Premier Division goes down, 1st in the First Division goes up. As for the Play-offs, 9th in the Premier Division will play the winner of a series involving 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the First Division. The season will be 18 games long. That’s what has been agreed upon, for now.
Relegation was one of the more contentious issues in a discussion that was plentiful on contentious issues. Some teams said it should be scrapped, there were suggestions of having a 12 team league next season.
We’ve often talked about how the league is too small on our domestic football show Get Your Bleak On. There simply aren’t enough teams in the league. It’s not that there are not enough in the country, just not enough in the league. And why is that? Because it’s not worth their while to join the LOI. Paying massive fees to play in front of small crowds, and possibly be stuck in the abyss that is the First Division isn’t an inviting prospect to clubs playing in provincial leagues. That’s why we have a top league of 10 teams, and a second tier of 10 teams one of which is a B team.
I use the word abyss very literally. It’s almost a black hole in Irish football. If you’re not in the top 10 teams in the LOI, it’s difficult to achieve anything in particular. UCD are the only team that has managed to consistently successfully move between the leagues, which is more due to their unique set up than anything else.
Teams like Wexford, Cobh Ramblers, and Galway United have fallen from the Premier Division and not really looked like returning. And then there’s Limerick, who went bust. The League of Ireland is top heavy, with the bottom being a dead end. It’s an issue many have harped on about. A lack of sustainability.
Two small leagues with no pyramid system means the League of Ireland is more of a parochial affair than a national competition. Our regular guest Forgotten Clubs Phil has written about the fact that 40 teams have come and gone in the League of Ireland. Unless your guaranteed success, there’s no real value in playing in the league.
How do we fix this. Funding, made difficult by the massive debt left by the previous regime, and long term planning. There is no quick fix, a 10 year plan needs to be put in place. Regardless of what happens with the All-Island league proposal, football in the Republic of Ireland needs to become sustainable.
Ideally we would have 3 tiers, a bigger Premier Division (possibly 14/6 teams), a bigger First Division (possibly 14/16 teams again). And a 3rd tier with around 16 – 20 teams. From there we need a pyramid system with regional leagues. Whether that’s Leinster/Munster.Ulster/Connacht and then a play-off series, or a North/South set up. But it can’t be a case of just throwing these teams together and hoping for the best. Sustainability is the key word.
The FAI needs to invest strongly in both the League of Ireland and Women’s National League. Prize money shouldn’t go into the CEO’s birthday party fund. Money needs to be reinvested in Irish football right the way down. Too many clubs have fallen out of the league never to be seen or heard from again. We can’t have a league where most teams are just trying to pay the bills. The aim should be thriving not just surviving.
By 2030, the next decade, we should have a bigger League for women and men. Sustainable pyramid systems and underage platforms. That requires investment, planning, and also people being interested in domestic football. The FAI needs to stop being the neglectful parent that claims to have a problem child.
This Weeks Domestic Football Podcast
Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien joined us on this weeks Get Your Bleak On. The former Drogheda man spoke about his career (in which he won every domestic honor available), the League of Ireland returning, and the men’s international side You can listen to the full podcast here, or listen on Spotify below. You can also get the episode on most podcast platforms, by searching Post to Post Sport.
Get Your Bleak On is out every Thursday, with discussions on League of Ireland, Women’s National League, and the Men and Women’s International sides.
WNL Sides Return to Training
The Women’s National League is set to resume on the 2nd week of August. We caught up with DLR Waves during their training session last week. Head coach Graham Kelly and the players were happy to be back.
We are partnered with DLR Waves in our fundraising efforts for Suicide or Survive. You can read about our cause and see where to donate here.