League of Ireland set for three-tier split from 2021

League of Ireland set for three-tier split from 2021

The League of Ireland is heading for a three-tier split format from 2021 if, as expected, clubs rubber-stamp proposals next month.

In an attempt to inject purpose into more games, the main proposal is for the top-six to breakaway after the second series of games.

The second group will be formed by the bottom four in the Premier accompanied by the top four from the First Division.

They will see out the season fighting for promotion or avoiding relegation, with the last six going into a third pot.

The proposals were yesterday presented to all 20 clubs and the Players Football Association of Ireland (PFAI) by a working group at a meeting in Dublin.

Those eight representatives from the clubs had met regularly since July, obtaining in the process crucial information from the FAI on the league’s commercial value.

It is understood the details which weren’t forthcoming under former FAI chief executive John Delaney and were eventually furnished by interim general manager Noel Mooney.

In essence, the league just about breaks even by receiving the €1.5m it costs to run the operation.

Any prospect of the League of Ireland merging with the Irish league to form an All-Island entity appears to be mothballed in the short-term. The man behind the concept, Kieran Lucid, will gather clubs from both sides to a meeting in Dundalk on October 24 but the appetite is waning.

What is more likely to emerge is a standalone Champions League-style Cup competition, similar to the Setanta Sports which ran for nine years up till 2014.

The other significant development from yesterday’s summit was overhauling the National League Executive Committee. The NLEC is the highest organ of decision-making for the league and was traditionally dominated by FAI-appointed members.

Following recommendations into FAI structures by the governance review group, clubs have now gained control of the forum.

Shamrock Rovers director Noel Byrne will serve as its first president. He is joined by Drogheda’s McArdle with Dundalk’s Martin Connolly and St Patrick’s Athletic’s Anthony Delaney also elected.

Galway United’s Peadar Ryan will represent the First Division clubs on the NLEC with the FAI’s board and senior Council both to nominate one member each who cannot have an association with a club.

The NLEC can also co-opt two external specialists to the committee, subject to the approval of the FAI board, meaning they’ll have seven of the nine members.

Mooney, due to return to Uefa next month from his seconded role with his former employers in the FAI, chaired yesterday’s gathering.

“The League of Ireland Working Group have created a tangible vision for professional football in Ireland that offers us the opportunity to deliver upon the potential of our league,” he said.

“What was clear again today is that we all want the same things - greater interest, bigger attendances, revenues and viewership figures, better facilities, youth academies, and a number of other key pillars required to achieve our ambitions.

We believe a course has now been plotted that excites and empowers the clubs to strive for more.

“Notwithstanding the external discussions on an All-Island League which continues to be of interest to our clubs, the way forward is now clearer, should the clubs decide to take it.

“This really is an exciting time for the league and we must grab the opportunity with both hands.”

The working group will remain active until the new format takes off in 2021. It is believed that will appoint experts to evaluate the potential commercial worth of the FAI. Uefa have already been involved in advising on broadcast deals and the European governing body will likely sponsor the costs of engaging the specialists.

Niall Quinn and his visionary group withdrew their offer to provide assistance to the clubs.

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