The author of a comprehensive new report into the League of Ireland has said he will be “very disappointed” if it is left to sit on a shelf.
“The clubs and the FAI can do one of two things,” consultant Declan Conroy said yesterday.
“They can say this is a document worthy of discussion and find a formula to discuss it, or they may not. I can’t control that. It’s not within my remit or control to do so. My impression is there is a will to do it, the mechanism, I don’t know.
“A huge amount centres on people’s appetite. I’ll be very disappointed if it sits on a shelf. But I don’t think it will.”
One of Conroy’s key recommendations is a revamped league structure which, if implemented, could see three or four clubs relegated from the top flight next season before a full transition to two divisions of 10 teams in 2017.
And he admitted that when he unveiled the proposal to club representatives in Abbotstown on Monday night, there was palpable shock in the room.
“Is it too radical, too early, too soon? When I talked this through with the clubs, you could feel the intake of breath. And I understand that. I’m not overly concerned about the timeframe.
“One of the reasons I recommended it was because the (FAI/League) merger agreement is up at the end of 2016 so something has to happen then. We need to get more people into grounds, more interesting games, to get more at stake for as long as possible in the season.”
Conroy would like to see the FAI move quickly to act on his recommendation that a marketing role be created for the exclusive promotion of the league. “I’d love to see the ‘marketing champion’ appointed quickly once the document is discussed,” he said.
“When I say champion, I mean someone who’ll want to live, eat, sleep, drink with the clubs, but the clubs need to play their part and link in with that person.”
In general, he said, there’s an urgent need for “clubs to change the way they govern themselves and the FAI to get more focused on marketing and promotion and structures and ambassadors”.
To the oft-heard view that, because the League of Ireland will always be fighting a losing battle against the lure of the Premier League, the present situation might even be as good as it gets, Conroy replied: “I don’t believe that. All the sex and rock and roll that goes with the Premier League is a reality. But do I believe there is potential to increase attendances here?
"Unquestionably, because I don’t believe the maximum is being achieved. I am not being overly ambitious but there are more people there who could be coming to games.”
On the vexed question of where the finance will come from to increase prize money, which he described as “inadequate”, and fund other initiatives to help develop the league, he observed: “A lot of the other building blocks are not going to cost money.
That is on one side of the house. On the other side of the house, is there more money available in the marketplace? Yes, I have no doubt about that. Can I put a number of it? No. I can be accused of being aspirational and unspecific but we are where we are and we have to be somewhere else. There is room for having a go.
“I spent a long time going around clubs and, believe me, when you walked in as part of this process, three quarters of the meeting wasn’t about positives .
“I think it’s fundamental that the clubs and FAI, even if they disagree on many aspects of this, agree on one thing, that a more progressive and positive outlook is the only way to go.”
FAI chief John Delaney thanked Conroy for “the most comprehensive and thorough review of senior domestic football in Ireland”.
“We look forward to working with the clubs to agree a process to discuss the consultation document in detail, and the association will be writing to the clubs this week to establish a timetable to move forward.”
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