Ramblers edge closer to Airtricity League return

Cobh Ramblers are on course to end their four-year absence from the Airtricity League after the league’s director Fran Gavin yesterday confirmed discussions with the club are progressing well.

Financial woes led to the Cork outfit being demoted to the A Championship in 2009 and, despite seeing last year’s licensing application rejected by the FAI, indications are positive that they will be part of an eight-team 2013 First Division campaign due to kick off next March.

Less encouraging are the prospects of Newry Town participating in the league. It is understood they broached the possibility of switching with the FAI, yet Gavin wouldn’t comment and it appears the audacious bid is shelved for the time being at least.

“Cobh are one of a number of clubs we’re in discussions with regarding licensing applications and the deadline for those comes next week on November 30,” said Gavin. “There may be more than eight teams in the First Division for next season, as we’ll consider all the applications.”

The league chief also reported in his end-of-season briefing an overall spectator increase of 8.5% during the season across the Premier and First Divisions. Sligo Rovers’ title-clinching run-in helped the top-flight record a 10% rise, as the Showgrounds attracted crowds in excess of 6,000 for the final pair of home games against St Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers.

Despite ending the season without silverware, it was the Dublin Rovers who continued to claim the highest overall attendances, this year averaging 3,120 at league games. Sligo trailed slightly into second place at 2,995 per home tie. Gavin said: “Our average Premier Division crowd was 1,621 and the target is to push that past the 2,000 mark.

“It won’t be until we get stability in the league, however, that we can expect that growth.”

One major hurdle towards reaching that stage came in June when Monaghan United withdrew mid-stream from the league, a day Gavin describes at the lowest point over the nine-month campaign.

Prize money, steadily decreasing in the past three years, is likely to be relatively unchanged for the 2013 campaign.

The announcement yesterday of Airtricity’s continued sponsorship of the league, in the form of a two-year extension, will yield a higher income stream for the FAI as it now incorporates their exclusive title as ‘official energy partner for the FAI and its international teams’.

Gavin said: “It shows that Airtricity recognise that the league is on the up at the moment and they want to keep involved.”

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