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Dublin: 7°C Friday 7 May 2021

Athlone Town want the League of Ireland to emulate MLS

The club have described the current format as “not fit for purpose”.

SSE Airtricity League First Division players (file pic).
SSE Airtricity League First Division players (file pic).
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

ATHLONE TOWN HAVE described the Irish First Division as “not fit for purpose” and say the League of Ireland should consider scrapping the competition and emulating the MLS format instead.

A statement from the club — who were relegated from the Airtricity Premier Division last season — reads as follows:

“Athlone Town AFC, very proud winners of the competition in the past, feels the current state of the second tier affairs are such it would be better off being consigned to history. At present the division is simply not fit for purpose.

“While a proposal to scrap the division was rejected some years ago, Athlone Town AFC believes the time is right to reconsider having just a single league with no relegation or promotion.

“The club is of the opinion that the division as currently structured, with just eight clubs, is simply not viable for the teams involved, players or fans.

“There is no getting away from the fact there is little interest in the competition.

“There are too many games against the same opposition, and fans are literally voting with their feet and not turning up in sufficient numbers.

“Also some the costs for the clubs are substantial given the long distances between the teams that currently make up the Division.

“It goes without saying that factors such as these are having an obvious negative effect on club’s finances.

“Any financial shortfall can leave clubs like ours in a perilous position, and could lead to more teams going out of League of Ireland Football.”

The statement also pointed to the MLS model as one to potentially emulate, citing the success the US league has enjoyed in recent years.

“In our opinion, it would be better for the league to have no relegation even though many would feel it would lead to more dead rubber games with teams at the bottom of the league having little or nothing to play for.

“Looking at the bigger picture, the Club feels that in order to solve this problem we should look to leagues like the MLS.

“What we suggest is to have all teams at the same level, but split the league into two conferences, in a manner that is identical to the current MLS format.

“That league has become very successful in what is a tough sports market.

“Like the MLS, Irish teams would play every other team in their respective conference on a home and away basis. A third round of games would be played against the teams in the same conference on a half-at-home-half-away basis.

“At the end of each regular season the top two, three or four sides could play off in knockout games for the overall league title. Last season’s ‘winner takes all’ tie between Cork and Dundalk really boosted the profile of the league.

“Having such a Final every season would, we accept not be to the liking of all, but surely it is better than the current state of affairs.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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