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First Division clubs to play season 'under protest' following admittance of Rovers B

Having threatened a boycott and legal action, clubs have agreed to a compromise on the eve of the new season.

The First Division will go ahead as planned tomorrow night.
The First Division will go ahead as planned tomorrow night.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE 2020 FIRST Division will proceed as planned, although clubs say they will play “under protest” following the admittance of Shamrock Rovers II to the League.

The First Division Alliance – a grouping of the nine second-tier sides aside from Rovers’ development side – have been vocal opponents of the admittance of any development sides to the League, and had floated the possibility of boycotting games against Rovers II. 

An accommodation has been found on the eve of the new season, however, with clubs agreeing to face Rovers II for the 2020 season only. They say they will do so “under protest” and will remain vocal critics of development sides throughout the year. 

The Alliance say they explored the possibility of legal action to prevent a development side from competing in the First Division, and while confident of a successful outcome, they decided against pursuing this path given the potential delay and disruption to the start of the League. 

They have agreed to face Rovers II this season following assurances from the FAI that a full review of the League of Ireland, which will include the National League Executive Committee and Participation Agreement will get underway in the next six months. They also welcome an admittance from Gary Owens that the process by which Rovers II were admitted “could have been more engaging of all the clubs in both the Premier League and First Division.” 

gary-owens-and-niall-quinn Gary Owens (left) with Niall Quinn. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It has been agreed that Rovers II will name a panel of specific U21 players for the 2020 season, and will be able to use one outfield player and one goalkeeper from their ‘A’ squad on any given matchday. The Alliance’s request that Rovers be barred from fielding any player born after 2003 was rejected. 

The statement concludes with a kind of call to arms: “The People’s League…Where Communities Matter.”

The 2020 First Division season begins tomorrow, while Longford Town host Shamrock Rovers II on Saturday at 7.30pm. 

Read the full First Division Alliance Statement below. 

“The First Division Alliance have been in ongoing discussions with the CEO and Deputy CEO of the FAI in recent weeks regarding the participation of Development teams in the League of Ireland First Division. We are pleased that the Interim Chief Executive of the FAI, Gary Owens, acknowledges that the process through which a ‘B’ Team has been admitted to the First Division could have been more engaging of all the clubs in both the Premier League and First Division.

The FDA have considered the possibility of legal action to prevent a ‘Development’ team from participating in the First Division and we (based on advice) were confident of a successful action. However, the potential disruption of a lengthy legal action would be excessive and would delay significantly the beginning of the League. We do not believe this would be in the best interests of our supporters, players, volunteers or indeed of football in Ireland, especially at this time. We understand that a full review of the League of Ireland will be driven by the FAI in the next 6 months and that this will involve all elements of Structure, Participation and Governance. Given the opposition of the majority of clubs to ‘Development’ team participation in the League of Ireland, we would, along with many Premier Division clubs, welcome the consideration of various options in a future structure to assist with player pathway and development as opposed to the fragmented structures that currently exist for clubs in all sectors for our younger players. 

“We are pleased that the review will include the National League Executive Committee and the Participation Agreement. The obvious neglect, in our opinion, of good Corporate Governance by the National League Executive Committee during this process shows that this Committee, as it stands, is not reflective of the views and needs of all our clubs. Our view is that all FAI Committees need Independent Chairpersons and training in the basic concepts of Corporate Governance, and this, we believe, should be a key tenet of any review.

“Having considered the above, and the assurances we have received from Gary Owens and Niall Quinn, our clubs will play against a ‘B’ team for the 2020 Season, but for the 2020 Season only. However, our clubs will participate in the 2020 Airtricity Season under protest and our clubs and club officials will continue to highlight our views regarding ‘Development’ teams throughout the season.

“It has been agreed that Shamrock Rovers’ ‘B’ team will name a panel of specific U21 players only for the 2020 Season. They will only be able to utilise one outfield player and one goalkeeper from their A team panel in any match day squad. The FDA also requested that a ‘B’ team not be allowed to play any players born after 2003, given that the very idea of a player pathway is for over-19s, however this was refused.

“We have already seen a number of very young players from various clubs joining Shamrock Rovers on the promise of ‘B’ team action in our league. This brings into question the very purpose of Academies and their role in Irish football. We do not believe this approach is right in terms of child welfare /safety, which questions (in our view) the sporting integrity of the games and, indeed, the League.

shels-celebrate-in-the-dressing-room-with-the-trophy-after-wining-the-league Shelbourne celebrate last season's title win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“However, we understand underage structures will form part of the review alluded to above. We realise that many of our fans would have preferred us to boycott matches against any ‘Development’ team, but the potential sanctions that we may face could put the very future of our clubs in jeopardy which we are not prepared to risk. 

“We would like to thank a number of Premier Division clubs (who are unhappy with the uneven playing field) for their support during this process. It is with this backing that we are so confident that our position is supported by the majority of clubs in the League of Ireland and that the solution above will be for one season only.

“We look forward to working with our fellow LOI clubs and with the FAI in developing a revamped League structure that will enable a domestic National League to flourish for the benefit of all stakeholders, in particular our young players and communities.”

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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