Dundalk fans in foul humour at the RSC last Friday night.                | Photo: Jim O’Sullivan

Dundalk fans in foul humour at the RSC last Friday night. | Photo: Jim O’Sullivan

Waterford United’s promotion push seems to have finally petered out.

The Blues have been given every chance in recent weeks to clinch the top spot but haven’t been able to seize the opportunities presented to them by their rivals.

After it was finally confirmed last Friday morning that they’d been awarded two extra points from the recent draw with Athlone at the RSC it seemed as if ‘someone up there’, whether in heaven or the FAI, was looking out for the local ‘League of Ireland’ club.

The reaction elsewhere was hostile, however. Manager Gareth Cronin took issue with a newspaper column by his former mentor Dermot Keeley, currently boss at joint-leaders Shelburne, who hit out at Waterford benefiting, effectively at their expense, from Athlone fielding an ‘unregistered’ 16-year-old sub (who was eligible to play for their Under 20 side), considering the state of the Suirsiders’ finances during the season.

Cronin pointed out that ‘thems the rules’ and that all clubs had signed up to the same participation agreement before the season started.

However, table-toppers Dundalk’s late winner at the RSC later that evening has all but killed off Waterford’s hopes of taking the First Division title. The atmosphere in Kilbarry was vicious and, in the half-time instance, violent, with visiting fans venting their spleen at the perceived injustice of it all and players and backroom staff being drawn into a huge fracas before half-time.

It’s a pity that Waterford have ultimately been found wanting on the field, but you can’t help thinking back to comments Cronin made last July when the club were in the midst of yet another all-consuming cash crisis. Essentially he said that going up this season would be the worst thing that could happen to the club.

The Corkman is an accountant and knows the harsh realities. “Long term, if we go up, God help us next year. It would be incredibly difficult. I’m absolutely sure that a lot of the management committee are praying we don’t go up. That sounds so wrong when you say it but they are probably right. It could kill the club if we go up.”

On the other hand, staying where they are is unsustainable. The club’s weekly budget this season is €7,500. Next year it will be €3,500-€4,000. “You’ll have a squad of local lads and with all the will in the world you won’t have a prayer of getting out of the First Division,” Cronin said.

However, after Friday’s home defeat he was more upbeat, claiming the future is bright. But the reality is it isn’t. It’s no-one’s fault in particular, and certainly not the players, management or the committee running a club against what, for any other business, would be insurmountable odds.

Given the worsened economic circumstances, whatever financial difficulties Waterford United and countless other clubs are already experiencing will be ten times worse you fear this time next year. The likelihood is that, after years of near misses, at least one Irish club, and possibly more, will go to the wall in 2009.