Chaos before the kick-off
Club evictions from top tier shatter confidence
WITH JUST two weeks to go before the new League of Ireland season is due to start, chaos reigns in the domestic game as three of the league's 22 senior clubs could well be gone from football by the time it all kicks off.
As things stand this morning Galway United -- who have been in the league for 34 years -- will join the now-defunct Sporting Fingal in leaving the senior ranks, while Limerick FC face a race against time to have all of their finances in order for the new term which starts on March 4.
The fixture list for the 2011 season, which was published by the FAI in Christmas week, can now be put in the bin as opening-day fixtures like Galway United v St Patrick's Athletic and Sporting Fingal v UCD will not now take place.
The FAI yesterday announced the results of the club licensing process for the 2011 season and non-LOI watchers can only have been confused with the outcome.
Fourteen teams were awarded Premier Division licences (even though only 10 teams play in the division), six clubs were awarded licences for the 12-team First Division (though significantly Limerick FC's licence is conditional on the Munster club securing extra funding, said to be €200,000, this week or else they will too be kicked out), while five teams, from Cobh Ramblers in the deep south to Fanad United in the most northerly point of the country, were given licences for the non-league A Championship.
Boiled down, the decision on licences by the FAI committee, along with Sporting Fingal's decision to drop out of the league, means that Drogheda United will play Premier Division football this season instead of being relegated, while Monaghan United will replace Galway United in the top flight despite finishing third in the First Division last season.
Galway United will be booted out of senior football altogether unless they can successfully appeal the decision not to award them a licence for the Premier or First Divisions, while even Limerick could be on their way out unless they clear up their affairs.
The FAI are fearful of a repeat of the Fingal situation when the club collapsed after their major benefactor Gerry Gannon withdrew his support, as Limerick rely heavily on the investment of club chairman Pat O'Sullivan.
The FAI want O'Sullivan to deposit a six-figure sum as proof of his commitment to the club for the whole season but the FAI demand will only add to tensions between Limerick and officials in Abbotstown, tensions which have been very high since the association blocked Limerick from playing a high-profile and potentially money-spinning friendly against Barcelona 18 months ago.
Some in Limerick soccer circles would argue that the club's finances would be healthier if they hadn't been stopped by the FAI from playing Barca.
"I'm very disappointed as this club is run as professionally as any club I have been at," said Limerick manager Pat Scully, who has been busily signing new players for the 2011 season.
"There is no need for assurances up front from Pat O'Sullivan about wages being paid. The players always have been paid. Just ask them."
Limerick insist that they will respond to the FAI's licencing committee before the deadline of Thursday.
Galway have been kicked out of the league for financial reasons as the club do not have a tax clearance cert in place and are also due to sort out payments owed to former employees, including players and a former manager.
Galway have said they will appeal the decision and the fans-led group GUST (Galway United Supporters Trust) hope they will get a fair hearing from the FAI.
But it's a sign of the bizarre and twisted nature of League of Ireland life that Galway are now being kicked out of the league not long after they were being hailed by the FAI as a model club.
In 2006, Galway were promoted to the Premier Division at the expense of Dundalk despite finishing behind the Louth club in the First Division as the westerners' finances and club structures were deemed superior to Dundalk's by the FAI.
And in 2009, FAI Chief Executive John Delaney defended their decision to kick Derry City out of the league for financial misdeeds by stating: "It's unfair to the clubs that are playing fair, the Brays, Droghedas, Galways who went about their business properly".
And on it goes, as St Pats supporters who have booked hotels for the season opener away to Galway United on March 4 wonder if they will have to cancel.