AS Cobh Ramblers get ready to take on Kerry FC at Mounthawk Park on opening night of the 2023 First Division season, supporters from Leeside might recall the last time a team from the Kingdom played senior football in the League of Ireland.
This was Tralee Dynamos, who represented the county in the A Championship; a short-lived third tier of the Irish football pyramid.
This competition ran from 2008 to 2011 and it saw reserve teams from League of Ireland sides compete against regional clubs like Mervue United, Salthill Devon, and Tullamore Town.
Newly created Sporting Fingal were supposed to slot into this league but were invited to join the First Division in 2008 after the demise of Kilkenny City.
This new tier arose from plans released by the FAI in the second Genesis report, a list of changes that also included the creation of an U20 league and a ten team Premier Division.
Cork City enjoyed immediate success in the new third tier as they won the inaugural A Championship Shield by beating Bohemians 2-0 at Buckley Park.
This was a precursor to the league season and Stuart Ashton’s team established themselves as early favourites to win the competition and its €20,000 prize.
The A Championship Shield also allowed David Meyler to give another exhibition as talk intensified about his potential sale to Sunderland. The midfielder had already helped City book their place in the Munster Senior Cup final at the expense of Rockmount, and he followed this up by scoring the second goal against Bohemians.
The real interest in the A Championship came from the exploits of Cobh Ramblers, who were demoted to the competition by Independent Club Licensing Committee in 2009. They took the place of their A team who started life in the third tier by finishing in sixth place in Group 2, a position hindered over a late postponement of a league game involving Cork City. Cobh had to award their local rivals the three points and they were hit with a €1,000 fine by the league’s governing body.
The Ramblers went straight down from the Premier Division and were forced to start again after a successful two years at St Colman’s Park. Their promotion party had ended disastrously in the league and the 2008 off-season saw the club struggling with mounting debts.
Cobh’s issues continued as they picked up just one win in their first year in the A Championship. They finished below the likes of FC Carlow and Tralee Dynamos, meaning they were the basement side in the Irish football pyramid at the end of 2009. Cork City A had a slightly better run in the league as they tallied 24 points and that was enough to earn them a sixth-place finish.
Cobh, as the sole representatives of Leeside in the competition, had a much better season in 2010 as they qualified for the promotion/relegation play-off against First Division basement side Salthill Devon. This achievement was enhanced by the fact that the team’s average age was 19 and the only real senior players were John Meade, Mikey O’Shea, and Michael Hastings.
The first leg of the play-off was held at St Colman’s Park and a first-half goal from Mikey Gilmore was enough to give Salthill Devon a 1-0 aggregate lead.
Cobh did everything in Galway to try and come back but an injury-time goal from Ciprian Straut meant that Jamie Murphy’s one for Cobh counted for nothing and Salthill Devon retained their First Division status for 2011.
The Ramblers failed to replicate their form in the new year and finished third from bottom in Pool 2. Their tally of 18 points wasn’t near the benchmark Shamrock Rovers and Bray Wanderers set and that gave them no hope of a play-off push in the final few weeks of the season.
The A Championship ended up as a test run for the U19 National League, which came into being in 2012. This replaced the third tier and it became a competition designed for ‘the best playing against the best’ at that age group in Ireland.
This featured only underage sides from League of Ireland teams and there was no room for the senior regional clubs.
Now, 11 years after Tralee Dynamos last kicked a ball, Kerry will be represented once again in the League of Ireland. It’ll be a strange occasion for all involved on February 17, one with even weirder history to draw from on opening night.