'It’s a shambles' - Club fury as plans for 11-team First Division revealed

Controversy continues to engulf the SSE Airtricity League First Division before a ball has even been kicked, after the release of a revised draft fixture list based on an 11-team second tier, including Shamrock Rovers B and Limerick FC.

'It’s a shambles' - Club fury as plans for 11-team First Division revealed

Controversy continues to engulf the SSE Airtricity League First Division before a ball has even been kicked, after the release of a revised draft fixture list based on an 11-team second tier, including Shamrock Rovers B and Limerick FC.

The fixture list — while clearly flagged as a draft, based on all clubs getting a licence and therefore “subject to change” — lays out the timetable for a season in which a new Shield competition would precede a 20-game league campaign getting its delayed kick-off on March 27.

The original First Division fixture list, which was released in January, had allowed for 10 teams competing in a 27-game season.

The revision was required after a decision to initially refuse Limerick permission to apply for a licence was reversed following proceedings in the High Court.

But, before that development, a Shamrock Rovers B team had already been accepted in their place, a move which has prompted strong opposition, including threats of boycott and legal action, among other First Division clubs.

While clubs have generally reacted with dismay and derision to the new fixture list, the view that Limerick face a daunting task in convincing the authorities they can meet all the necessary requirements before licences are confirmed on February 6, means there is still a widespread belief that the original fixture list could ultimately stand.

Either way, the presence of a Rovers B team will continue to provoke court controversy, with Cabinteely chairman Larry Bass having previously gone on record as saying his side will refuse to play the Hoops’ second team.

Drogheda United chairman Conor Hoey said his club were “placing no credence whatsoever,” on the draft fixture list. He also told RTÉ that, as the First Division Alliance, clubs have written to the new interim FAI chief executive, Gary Owens, calling for urgent talks about the inclusion of the Rovers B team.

“All of this uncertainty is hugely unfair on the players, the supporters and the volunteers at all these clubs who are trying to get ready for a new and exciting season,” Hoey said.

It’s a shambles.

Despite the turmoil, Cobh Ramblers chairman Michael O’Donovan — who is opposed to going down the road of boycotts or taking legal action — said that, as much as possible under the circumstances, it’s business as usual at his club in terms of preparing for the new season.

“Absolutely, our pre-season is well under way and nothing has changed in that regard,” he said. “I just think the whole notion of this being played out in a courtroom is the last thing we need. We have enough issues to deal with without having to go to court or anything like that. We would rather not have a B team in there but it’s out of our hands. At this stage I would take the B team rather than those draft fixtures.”

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