It’s rare that I scream at the television screen these days but watching Fran Gavin of the FAI on the RTE main evening news last night commenting on how wonderful the new League of Ireland season was going to be, complete with their shiny new sponsors, elicited a primal roar from the kitchen table that sent my daughter scurrying for cover.
Cork City FORAS Co-op begins life in the second tier of Irish football away to Derry City at their Brandywell stadium this evening. Following a horrific few months for Cork soccer fans, our former club Cork City FC went to the wall and were wound up in the High Courts in Dublin.
Massive debts, terrible miss-management and a chronic lack of assistance from the FAI were just some of the reasons my club simply had to fold.
In its place has risen a brand new club Cork City FORAS (which stands for FRIENDS OF THE REBEL ARMY SOCIETY). A combination of one of the most dedicated and well-organised fans groups in the country along with other Cork-based partners and backers purchased a First Division licence once Cork City were terminated and a new club begins its long journey back to the top of Irish domestic football tonight.
Derry City FC is also beginning life in the second tier of Irish football following plenty of off-field problems of their own. The clash of two of the best supported clubs on the island always attracts a big crowd and live TV coverage.
Now both sides will have to make do with the long and arduous battle to make it back to the top flight on a limited budget and using part-time players. Fran Gavin thinks it is a good thing that clubs such as Cork and Derry \’have had to get their houses in order’ and work their way back to the top using a more sensible business plan.
He is correct in this assumption yet the lack of forward planning and a closer look at the bigger picture by the Irish governing football should be a cause for concern.
This season’s Premier Division of Irish football will be without a club from outside the (M50 Route) greater Dublin County area of the country except for Sligo Rovers and Galway United in the West.
To compound matters further the FAI has granted Salthill Devon and Castlebar Celtic licenses for the A Championship (3rd Division), two clubs within close proximity to Galway United.
Add Mervue United in the First Division and that’s three new semi-pro teams from a small catchment area competing against one another for all the soccer fans in Galway.
Fran Gavin thought it was fantastic to see two well run clubs like Salthill and Castlebar progressing but forgot to mention the affect this will have on the coffers and future viability of all the clubs involved.
The fact there are so many teams in the capital all within a relatively short driving distance is an arguable point as most of the country’s population lives in the Dublin area anyway, offering plenty of supporters the opportunity to support a number of clubs.
Shamrock Rovers are the new shining light of the FAI domestic dream. A club with a rich heritage and new stadium has risen from the ashes of almost going out of business to rebound to the top tier of Irish football in a relatively short space of time.
The FAI can point to Shams (and rightly so) as a prime example to every other Irish club how success will follow prudent spending and a sound business foundation. Yet it was the fans of Shamrock Rovers who helped resurrect the club and the FAI who allowed the Hoops to nearly fold as the governing body of the domestic game.
Fran Gavin has left the studio now and is no doubt off to dust down his FAI blazer and prepare for the new season. He and the FAI must realise that Irish football needs diversity and clubs from all over the island present in the top tier to have any hope of a successful future.
Young fans from rural areas will be lost to GAA and Rugby with no League of Ireland football on offer in the coming season.
Cork City FORAS and Derry City should have taken top Premier League billing this weekend but has now been relegated to a middle-tier league fixture whilst the Bohemians vs. Sporting Fingal will be screened live on TV.
A comparison of the TV audience ratings from the last City vs. Derry top-tier game and tonight’s live offering will offer the clearest reminder to the FAI of what lies ahead for the coming season.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork League junior footballer.