A process report on the League of Ireland has just been published. Commissioned by the FAI, it was written by the respected independent consultant Declan Conroy.
Mr Conroy’s findings are contained in a 75-page document that recommends a radical shake-up of the overall league structure.
Many of his 18 main suggestions are interesting and thought provoking and, of course, are worthy of serious consideration.
However, as one of the dwindling band of people who still attend League of Ireland games, there is one important recommendation that I would take issue with.
Mr Conroy recommends strengthening the First Division with two teams from the Premier Division, creating two new leagues comprising 10 teams each.
While having two divisions sounds great and looks good on paper, the reality is much different. This country is too small to have two senior League of Ireland leagues. Even in the glory years when many thousands of people were paying into the grounds every week, there was only one league and that’s the way it should be today.
Waterford United is a good case in point. The RSC is one of the best and most comfortable grounds in the country and, even though the Blues are propping up the table at present, there have been some really good and entertaining games there this season.
Yet the fans are staying away and from listening to people talking, I have come to the conclusion that it is not the team’s poor performance that is keeping them away. It is a God awful, boring league where eight teams play each other four times.
If you had eight teams in the English Premier League doing the same thing, the crowds and the interest would also fall away.
There should be one league of 16 to 20 teams that would play each other twice on a home and away basis.
A rising tide lifts all boats and the weaker sides would soon toughen up and tighten up when faced with regular superior opposition. And there would be variety and spice for the fans.
At present, the League of Ireland is not self sustainable and the matter of players’ remuneration is like a piece of string. It varies from club to club and depends on who has or hasn’t got money or a wealthy benefactor.
But there is one area that the FAI should seriously consider supporting with finance and that is the players’ travel arrangements.
Facing into long journeys every second week on a shoestring is both tough and demoralising for the players and puts more than a few off who might otherwise sign for League of Ireland clubs, especially players with young families and various other commitments.
Finally, there is the national media and the total lack of coverage it gives the First Division. If it wasn’t for local newspapers and local radio, the League would be invisible.
Not one national newspaper gives any decent coverage to the First Division and neither does RTE.
That, of course, is the prerogative of the various sports editors but I have long believed it to be a wrong call on their part for a variety of reasons that I haven’t got the space to go into here. We shall see what we shall see and, in the meantime, Up The Blues!