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LOI restart saga takes another twist as Premier clubs call for investigation into relegation decision

The FAI board will now review the restarted league format that they announced yesterday.

The Premier Division trophy.
The Premier Division trophy.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE SAGA THAT has become of efforts to restart the League of Ireland season has taken another twist, as Premier Division Clubs have called for an investigation into the process that led to an agreement that the season resume with two clubs in danger of relegation. 

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the FAI said the National League Executive Committee (NLEC) ruled that the League will resume on 31 July, with two rounds of matches in total, including games played to date, and promotion and relegation as scheduled at the start of the 2020 season. 

Under that format, the bottom club in the Premier Division will be relegated automatically, with the side second-from-bottom facing a play-off with a First Division side to decide their fate. 

The decision on relegation has become a major issue for Premier Division clubs.

Given the truncated season, most top-flight clubs want there to be only one side at risk of relegation. Retaining the status quo, with its added opportunities for promotion, is the preferred option for First Division clubs. 

The NLEC consists of representatives from three Premier Division clubs (Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, and Saint Patrick’s Athletic), two First Division clubs (Drogheda United and Galway United) along with two FAI board members. 

The FAI board members, the two First Division representatives and Shamrock Rovers voted in favour of retaining two relegation spots, while the Dundalk and Pat’s representatives voted for one relegation place. It’s understood that Rovers are the only Premier Division club to support the retaining of two relegation places. 

Shamrock Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche explained his club’s stance on Off the Ball this evening, saying that the competitive nature of both divisions would be “drastically affected” if only one club was relegated automatically.

He also emphasised that the NLEC’s remit is to act in the best interests of the League of Ireland as a whole, rather than either division. 

Most Premier Division clubs, however, believe they have been dictated to by First Divison clubs on the issue of relegation. 

A letter written by Premier Clubs Alliance Vice-Chair Anthony Delaney – said to be on behalf of the majority of the PCA – was sent to FAI Chair Roy Barrett earlier today, in which it was said that members are unhappy with the decision on relegation and say the process leading up to the vote was flawed. 

The letter, seen by The42, calls for an investigation into this process. 

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“Considering we were told on numerous occasions throughout the process that the resumption of the Premier Division was the primary concern from a Uefa perspective, we find it difficult to fathom how the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Premier Division clubs have been ignored. The clubs have called for an investigation into this process.”

Clubs have also called for legal advice received by the FAI in relation to the decision be shared with all clubs, and query why the league format was publicly announced prior to its ratification by the FAI Board. 

The letter is very critical of the performance of the FAI executive during the process to restart the league. “It should be noted that there was widespread displeasure at the performance of the executives throughout this process”, states the letter, later saying the clubs’ unhappiness with the decision “must call into question again the deep-rooted concerns over the governance and direction of the FAI as it pertains to our domestic league, something which we had all hoped was a thing of the past.

“Collectively, the Premier Division Clubs will invest in the region of €10m in the domestic game this year, over 10 times that invested by the First Division and yet we find
ourselves dictated to by them and the Executives of the FAI.

“This cannot persist; it is simply unsustainable that those of us who invest what we do in
football should be dictated to in such a manner.

“The clubs see the decision foisted on us yesterday as irresponsible and contrary to the those very same objectives the Premier Clubs have seen publicised by the new regime, i.e. the promotion of the League.”

This is not the first time the FAI Executive have been criticised during the drawn-out restart process, with St Pat’s Chairman Garrett Kelleher writing to some FAI board members last month claiming Quinn and Owens had “failed and failed badly” in their efforts to restart the league.

This wasn’t a view shared as strongly by all clubs, who, tempered their criticism by acknowledging the difficulty of the circumstances. 

The main issue at that time – the cobbling together of a financial package to ensure clubs could afford to return to play – has since been resolved, with the announcement of a government relief fund along with confirmation of incipient support from Fifa. 

The issue is now over how many sides go down at the end of a shortened season, with the FAI board due to review the decision tomorrow night. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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