League of Ireland clubs confident of drawing home comfort

The prospect of the League of Ireland resuming with teams playing in their home grounds appears to be improving.
League of Ireland clubs confident of drawing home comfort
Turners' Cross, as Cork City took on Shamrock Rovers in May of 2015. File pic.

Additional reporting: John Fallon

The prospect of the League of Ireland resuming with teams playing in their home grounds appears to be improving.

A sweetened financial pot in tandem with the cost-reduction of a compressed season and the scrapping of plans to play games at neutral venues, have all helped move things “in a more positive direction” according to one club official who took part in the latest teleconference meeting with the FAI.

However, there are still significant hurdles to be overcome.

One controversial idea floated by clubs yesterday was that the FAI Cup would be cancelled to help shorten the season, but the proposal would also face considerable resistance given the winners are entitled to a Europa League place – unless Uefa would be prepared to reallocate that berth to the league.

Another question which is still to be resolved is whether relegation from the Premier Division might be suspended to help insulate vulnerable clubs against longer-term damage. As things currently stand, however, the usual promotion and relegation regulations would continue to apply.

At yesterday’s meeting, the FAI upped their compensation offer to clubs in a bid to restart the 2020 campaign with the collective pot understood to have increased from €1.7m to just over €2.15m.

It remains to be seen whether the package is sufficient to sway those clubs sceptical about the financial viability of resuming without guaranteed matchday income from behind closed doors fixtures.

Overall, the FAI have illustrated how they intend funding the €3.3m cost associated with getting the professional game back up and running after it was halted in mid-March.

The costs, on top of the payout to clubs, are itemised into stadium grants, streaming costs, FAI Cup, marketing of streaming and referees’ fees.

Uefa solidarity sums of €700,000 and €300,000 from government agency Sport Ireland appear on the opposite side of the ledger within the investment category, as does a €2m ‘funding requirement’.

It is understood plans last week to secure buy-in from clubs was stymied by the failure of the FAI board to underwrite that €2m shortfall.

But with outgoing Sports Minister Shane Ross last week bullish about football featuring in a ‘recovery fund’ for the sector, and Fifa committed to assisting financially challenged leagues across the world, confidence about a resumption within six weeks is increasing.

Sinn Féin have now written to both Ross and to the FAI seeking urgent meetings to discuss the situation, with TDs Ruairí Ó Murchú, Chris Andrews and Darren O'Rourke calling for a one-off €2m kick-start solidarity grant from the Department of Sport.

Ó Murchú said: "We have written to the Minister of Sport Shane Ross and separately to Gary Owens and Niall Quinn of the FAI with the intention of discussing the need for a state-led resolution to this crisis.

"The current board of the FAI has inherited a debt of over €60m. That is the legacy of John Delaney. But the future of Irish football cannot be allowed to suffer as a result."

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