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Monday 20 February 2017

Trimming league size won't save LOI

For the third time in less than two decades, the decision-makers in League of Ireland football have opted to trim down the top flight and bring in a 10-team Premier Division, which will kick in for the 2018 season
For the third time in less than two decades, the decision-makers in League of Ireland football have opted to trim down the top flight and bring in a 10-team Premier Division, which will kick in for the 2018 season

For the third time in less than two decades, the decision-makers in League of Ireland football have opted to trim down the top flight and bring in a 10-team Premier Division, which will kick in for the 2018 season.

Whether this latest venture, suggested in the Conroy Report which was presented last year, is a permanent one or will be dropped within a matter of years remains to be seen, but already there is widespread scepticism about the idea of ditching two more clubs from the top flight to have a 10-team Premier Division.

While fans have to endure scenes of near squalor in toilets at many LOI grounds around the country, where players are forced to change in sub-standard dressing rooms and the idea of getting a hot meal at a League of Ireland stadium remains an aspiration more than a reality, the FAI - somehow- see as a priority the introduction of a 10-team league as a game-changer for a league which struggles to get national attention.

The changes will usher in two 10-team leagues, which means that three clubs will be automatically relegated from the current 12-team top division at the end of next season and only one team promoted, with no promotion playoff.

The format been tinkered with before: for three seasons (2002-04) there was a 10-team top flight and in each of those seasons, five of the 10 Premier Division clubs came from Dublin, leading to a geographical imbalance which was corrected with the return of the 12-team league in 2005. We had the same dance for three years from 2009-11 with a 10-team league that was again ditched.

The push for a 10-team league has come from the Premier Clubs Alliance, as the FAI pointed out when they announced the season's fixtures yesterday.

Shelbourne have already noted that "this has a major impact on this club, and all First Division clubs who were hoping to win promotion this season" while supporters of Drogheda United, Finn Harps and Bohemians will gear up for a relegation battle.

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