Earlier this week it was revealed in the Irish Sun that following on from Monday’s most recent meeting between the Premier Clubs Alliance (PCA) and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that the proposed change in league structure to two divisions of ten teams WILL go ahead starting 2018.
With the vast majority of Premier Division clubs reportedly against the changes which will see three sides relegated from the top-flight this coming season, speculation had been brewing among the League of Ireland (LOI) public that the PCA may attempt to reject the FAI’s plans.
However, it has now been confirmed that the PCA will seek to secure parachute payments for the three clubs suffering the drop into the dreaded First Division from which only one side will be promoted from in 2017.
This disappointing development has now led to some critics labelling the PCA as been led by the LOI’S elite clubs.
With league winners Dundalk and European hopefuls Shamrock Rovers two of the main forces allegedly in support of the switch, it is easy to see why supporters of some of the leagues smaller clubs may share such views.
Given that there are only twenty outfits currently operating in the senior LOI set-up it is astonishing that none of the eight First Division clubs greatly affected by said switch were entitled to vote on the proposal.
Calls for the PCA to incorporate the second tier clubs under their umbrella have been swiftly rejected, although two meetings during the course of the season have been offered to the First Division clubs.
Reportedly the PCA will instead focus on the perceived lack of marketing around the league as well as the small prize-pool on offer and the high running costs incurred through running both senior and under-age teams.
While that is all well and good and makes reasonable sense, in the meantime almost 50% of the LOI community has been left hung out to dry.
With only one promotion place up for grabs this season, First Division clubs are fearing the consequences of another potential run-away leader in the second tier with both Waterford United and Longford Town spending big in a bid to return to the top-flight.
Should one of those two sides, or any other for that matter leave their rivals sitting attendances will surely plunge with potential sponsors perhaps reluctant to get involved with clubs at a time of minimal exposure.
There are question marks over the future of clubs such as Wexford Youths already beginning to surface during the opening days of pre-season training and nobody would be surprised should the LOI family lose yet another member in 2017.
While the concept of parachute payments is one many will be familiar with given the significant sums paid out to Championship club in England who fall out of the Premier League, given the circumstances First Division clubs here currently find themselves in it may only add to an already rather uneven playing field
Though any payments to the three relegated clubs are unlikely to be huge, it does seem unfair that three clubs would receive payments for falling into the second tier while the seven remaining First Division sides would receive nothing.
Throw in the potential for some high profile clubs with already much higher budgets to fall into the First Division; it would leave the majority of the second tier clubs with no realistic chance of competing.
A far fairer proposal from the PCA would be for an increased prize pool in the First Division with more promotion opportunities available to the leagues competitors through an expanded play-offs system.
Not only would this increase in prize money help keep clubs afloat but the extra play-off places would help draw much greater crowds and an increase in both gate receipts, merchandise sales and sponsorship income.
However, with the PCA seemingly unconcerned with the interests of First Division clubs this seems extremely unlikely.
Since the PCA’s snub, some have begun to call for a separate body to represent the interests of these outcast clubs but surely more divides can not be helpful for the future of the domestic game?
With only twenty LOI clubs in operation at present it is hard for many to understand why the PCA would not want to bring First Division clubs on board and present a united front to the governing body.
Where next for the PCA and all of the leagues clubs?
Who knows, but after years of in-fighting prior to the FAI taking control of the LOI and all of the discontent towards the governing body in the years since, surely it is time for everyone involved with the league from players to managers to coaches and youth coaches to volunteers to chairmen, supporters and even journalists to come together and develop a true plan to change the course the LOI has been taking, or not taking as many will point out, and present it as a united body to the decision makers running our domestic game.
The need for development of facilities, community ties, marketing and the likes are universal issues within the LOI that effect all twenty clubs not just a handful and that is why we should be working together to fix the league rather than divide it even further as the lopsided make-up of the PCA is currently doing.