Roy Keane has said that League of Ireland players should be inspired by the example of Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, and Gary Rogers breaking into the Ireland squad while playing with champions Dundalk last season.
“It should be an inspiration, of course,” he said yesterday. “If you’re a player playing in the League of Ireland and you see what’s happened to the couple of lads who’ve been involved, the first thing you should ask yourself is, ‘why can’t that be me?’
“For Martin (O’Neill) and myself, it’s certainly not a PR exercise (attending LOI games). We go because we enjoy watching League of Ireland players and we enjoy looking at players we think might and will get the opportunity to come into the senior squad.
“Your eyes don’t lie to you. When you’re watching a good player, you’re watching a good player, no matter what level he’s playing at. And we’ve been impressed with lots of players. A couple of lads have managed to get involved in the senior squad and we’d like to think that will continue over the next year or two.”
Ireland’s assistant manager was speaking at the launch of the 2017 SSE Airtricity League of Ireland season at the Aviva Stadium.
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny — whose side now begin the quest for four titles in a row — hailed the geog-raphical spread of the Premier Division. “I remember when there was a 10-team league and six or seven of the teams were from the greater Dublin area,” said Kenny. “Now it’s a real national league and a lot of the major cities and towns are represented.”
Not everyone in the domestic game shares Kenny’s mainly positive outlook ahead of the final season before the league reverts to two tiers of ten in 2018, with First Division clubs. in particular, fearing the impact on their fortunes of the cancellation of the promotion/relegation play-offs this year — a decision in which they had no input.
The FAI’s director of competitions, Fran Gavin, refused to be drawn on the controversy yesterday, rebuffing repeated requests from the media to explain in detail how discussions between Premier League clubs and the FAI finally arrived at the new order.
“Look, I’m not going to go back over any decision,” he said. “We are where we are, the decision is there: In 2018 we’ll have two tens. That’s where we are. All the clubs have accepted that and they’ve moved on with it.”
Despite concerns about the impact on the rest of the division if another club were to “do a Limerick” this season by running away with the First Division title, Gavin said the second tier “will be extremely competitive this season”. He said the First Division is viable in the long-term, and indicated that the question of the play-offs would be revisited for the 2018 season.
“I think it’s important we have two divisions,” he said. “Relegation and promotion are very important in a competitive league. It’s also an important area for players to develop in the First Division. Clubs have gone into the First Division — Shamrock Rovers, Cork — and come back stronger because they’ve been able to settle down, build the club again, and come back. It’s a terrific league, the First Division, it’s gotten very strong this year.”
Asked to clarify the circumstances under which Wexford FC have been able to emerge in phoenix-from-the-flames fashion, and apparently at the 11th hour, to replace a Wexford Youths club which was facing a winding up order over an outstanding debt, Gavin said: “ A new entity from Wexford applied for a licence. They met all the requirements for a licence. The licence committee made the decision. An independent committee, they made their decision and they are satisfied with the application and they’ve been rewarded with a First Division licence.”
In other news from yesterday’s launch of the 2017 season, it was announced that, following discussions with the Scottish FA, Bray Wanderers, and Sligo Rovers — the two clubs highest placed outside the European spots at the end of last season — have accepted an invitation to participate in the IRN-BRU Scottish Challenge Cup next season.
Former League of Ireland goalkeeper John McGuinness was named as the new marketing executive who will work solely on the SSE Airtricity League.
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