Against the backdrop of the current turmoil at the FAI, the hope has been widely expressed that reform of the Association will see more support and prominence given to the League of Ireland.
But while he admits that Irish football’s elite domestic game has “a fair bit to go”, Competitions Director Fran Gavin insists that the FAI have never underestimated the importance of the League.
“In my role as League Director, it is an absolute top priority for us,” he says. “90 odd per cent of my work is based on the League of Ireland, it’s dealing with clubs, everything that relates to the League and various other aspects. It’s the priority and it has been since the day I took over the job.
“And the game has grown outside of that with underage leagues and a women’s league which is very important to us as well, and more League of Ireland clubs are starting to get involved in that area. So it’s been a priority for us, number one for myself personally and, from my experience in the FAI, it’s been a priority.”
Responding to the criticism that, off the pitch, the League has stagnated under the FAI’s watch, Gavin says:
"But, certainly from where we started to where we are now, there is more coverage of it and the facilities, the pitches, the crowds are getting better So it’s not there yet? No, it isn’t.
"Remember we went through a huge recession during all this too which put a halt to a lot of stuff. We’re trying to build it up again but other forces were in play after that.
"So, on the back of issues like are happening at the moment, opportunities do arise. I feel the League has improved from where we were but it still has a fair bit to go.”
Gavin admits that the current upheaval in Abbotstown has affected progress on plans to reduce the FAI’s control of the League from next season.
“Maybe the whole structure mightn’t be done but the clubs want more say in the League in 2020 and I think that’s the way we’re going to go,” said Gavin.
“Things have stalled in the last few months with obviously what’s going on. The time frame has shifted a little bit but those discussions are taking place.”
“I’m a League of Ireland guy, I enjoy it,” he says. “It’s a tough job to be in, you’re trying to please a lot of stakeholders. Football is an industry that everyone has an opinion on.
“Every decision you make, someone would have made a better decision and they’ll tell you straight away. That’s the way it is. I really enjoy it, I really enjoy what I’m doing: getting up in the morning, going into work and being involved in football.
“It’s my life, it has been my life.
Meanwhile, Gavin says that financially troubled Limerick FC have given the FAI assurances that Sean Russell will not be left out of pocket following surgery on a serious knee injury.
The player says that he has been left facing a bill of €4,500 after he claimed the club failed to cover the cost of his recent operation.
“You shouldn’t be out of pocket if you get injured playing for the club,” says Gavin.
“It’s important the club address that very quickly. All the clubs have insurance policies for players so they need to get it sorted out.
“Sean needs to be sorted. It’s between the club, the player and the hospital. We’d like the club to sort it. We’ve been given assurances by the club they will so the player is not out of pocket.
“If the issue is not addressed, we’ll have a look at the issue. But it’s the club’s responsibility. We don’t sign the players, the club sign the players. It’s their responsibility.”