Cobh chairman: League of Ireland clubs need a fair shot at promotion

Cobh chairman: League of Ireland clubs need a fair shot at promotion
Cobh Ramblers' Dave Hurley is tackled by Drogheda United's Luke Heeney during the First Division clash at St Colman's Park. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE FAI board is set to review the decision to restart the League Of Ireland season on July 31, following a formal complaint from the majority of Premier Division clubs.

First Division sides such as Cobh Ramblers want to guarantee that there is a fair chance for the clubs in the lower tier to get promoted through a play-off series. The elite sides want to ensure only the bottom-placed club will face the drop.

Ramblers chairman Bill O’Leary feels having the promotion and playoffs is crucial to ensure the returning League of Ireland is an appealing competition for supporters.

“All of the First Division clubs hope that the FAI will respect the process that was undertaken. We recognise they have been put in a very difficult position and that they are trying to do the absolute best for the game.

"I think people there have shown that they have real integrity in the way they have handled things. They have shown eagerness to find a solution and have been patient. I think they are acting in the best interests of the game.

“It is not without difficulty and everyone has an opinion. But we just hope in the First Division the process will be respected and there won’t be a further sting in the tale here.

"I don’t think that will serve anyone well and for anyone watching in from the outside. That cannot be good for anyone.” 

On Tuesday this week, a statement from the FAI confirmed that the League Of Ireland would return on July 31, with one automatic place for relegation and promotion, but also a play-off to keep other clubs interested.

The teams who finish in second, third, fourth and fifth in the First Division would battle it out and the winner would then face the ninth-placed club in the top tier.

Nine of the 10 Premier Division clubs wanted to alter the format to one-up, one-down because of the reduced number of games. Cork City having only just 13 matches left to play are already battling the drop after a poor start before lockdown. However, teams in the First Division want to keep the incentive for a second promotion spot.

“It is critically important. It cannot be overestimated how important that is because at the end of the day, we as a League Of Ireland showpiece, all of us together, are trying to capture the hearts and minds of the sporting public out there in a much more competitive environment.

“If we don’t have a scenario where your local team can go up and play in the Premier Division, it removes a huge incentive for people to go and watch their team.

“It can actually remove a lot of that connectivity between the man on the street and his local team. That team might not get to the Premier Division, but at least they have the potential to do it.

“Equally in the Premier Division, you could have a whole series of games there where long before the end of the season, where there is no potential for relegation, so those games would be meaningless.

“You could end up with a chunk of the season in both divisions with meaningless games. That absolutely undermines what sport is about.

“It undermines the integrity of football in Ireland. At the end of the day, it is opportunistic thinking in my opinion. 

"It is people thinking about their own back garden and not thinking about sport and soccer in general. It is short-sighted and I think it is wrong."

Cobh Ramblers are eagerly awaiting a long-overdue return to proper action. Cobh returned to collective training for the first time post lockdown earlier this week, with a training session at the grounds of Munster Senior League club Mayfield United.

“The players are really energised. That is why we exist, to give young men the opportunity to showcase their talents and to do better on a national level.

“It is time football went back. The players win because they get to play, the supporters win because they want to watch it.”

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