The decision by the board of management comes after a series of meetings between clubs revealed a diversity of views about the future shape of the league, with those in the top flight by and large favouring the status quo or even a reduction to 10 clubs, while some clubs in the First Division expressed a desire for a one-division league.
“They were heated discussions,” said Aitricity League Director Fran Gavin yesterday, adding, “what was agreed at those meetings was they agreed to disagree.”
For the moment, the shape of the First Division next season is still unclear.
Following the exit of Monaghan United from the top flight earlier this season, the Premier Division will be brought back up to 12 clubs next term through the process of one team receiving automatic promotion from the First Division and another emerging from a Premier v First play-off.
But, as things stand, that would leave the First Division with just seven clubs, so the FAI have invited expressions of interest by clubs or new entities who would like to compete in the second tier for the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, despite some clubs complaining about the difficulties they face attracting crowds, attendances in the Premier Division are actually up 10% this year on last year, according to Gavin, a rise he attributes in part to the promotion of Cork City and Shelbourne and the buzz surrounding Sligo Rovers’ title charge.
Shamrock Rovers, Sligo and Cork are the biggest crowd-pullers in the Premier Division, where attendances this season have averaged 1,700.
The details have also been confirmed for this year’s promotion/relegation play-off series.
In the First Division, the third-placed club will host the second-placed club in a first-leg game on Friday/Saturday October 19/20, with the second leg taking place on Friday/Saturday October 26/27.
The winning club will play the 11th-placed Premier Division club in a two-legged decider, the first leg of which will be on Monday/Tuesday October 29/30, with the second leg scheduled for Friday, November 2 or — if one of the clubs is involved in the FAI Ford Cup Final — on Wednesday November 7.