After what director Fran Gavin described as “several years of recession”, it seems the Airtricity League is set to feel the first stirrings of the economic recovery with the news that the prize fund has been increased this season, from €315,500 to €475,500.
With money for the EA Sports Cup, the FAI Cup, Uefa Fair Play payments and €1.15m for European qualification added on, the FAI say that the total pot for the 2016 domestic season which kicks off on March 4 will be close to €1.75m.
The increase in the league prize fund — the detailed breakdown of which will be released next week — is actually, in large part, the result of a commercial deal which the FAI originally announced in December.
“It’s from the ‘Trackchamp’ deal and we’ve put some more money into it to bring it up to the figures we gave you there”, said Fran Gavin after the official new season launch at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
On the background to the first increase in the prize fund since 2011, Gavin said: “The whole country was in a recession. Across the board, people lost their jobs so we did our best to maintain [the prize money] at a fair level. Obviously the clubs would like more money, that’s the nature of the business.
“We are conscious of that. And we are open to increasing the prize fund. But it does not always have to be in prize money; it can be in other areas such as community development. Or maybe both, that’s what we’d like to develop,” he says.
Though last year’s Conroy Report into the league recommended that structural changes be introduced this season, Gavin said the rate of progress of discussions with the clubs means any major changes which might be agreed will take longer to implement.
“It’s at a pace that the clubs are comfortable with and we are comfortable with,” said Gavin. “We will look to have announcements for changes for the 2017 season and the restructure would obviously happen for 2018, if it’s the case that there is a restructuring. That’s the timeframe.”
Meanwhile, speaking at yesterday’s launch, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill noted that, of the 25 players he used in the European Championship qualifying came, nine originally came from the League of Ireland.
“That should be a big boost to young players coming through,” he said.
O’Neill also said that. in concentrating on the qualifying campaign, he didn’t get to as many League of Ireland matches as he would have liked.
“My main objective was to try and qualify for the Euros and so, rather selfishly, I thought that most of the players that I would be choosing would be probably playing in England.
“Therefore, I’ve gone to some games here but not as many as I probably should be attending, but I feel now with qualification (secured) I could try to get to some of the games, particularly if I am pointed in a direction,” he said.
O’Neill also said that he would be happy to leave his phone number with Airtricity League managers — “the best judges” he called them — so they could alert him to any players they feel might warrant his attention.
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