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Don't ditch the cup - just get creative

FAI must be ready to embrace innovation and rescue season

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Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke, Sean Kavanagh and Ronan Finn celebrate victory in last year’s FAI Cup Final

Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke, Sean Kavanagh and Ronan Finn celebrate victory in last year’s FAI Cup Final

SPORTSFILE

Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke, Sean Kavanagh and Ronan Finn celebrate victory in last year’s FAI Cup Final

From one headache to another. After being told to improve a package to save the League of Ireland season, and then presenting a proposal that gives them a chance of doing so, the FAI hierarchy still have work to do. And now they must negotiate the balancing act of delivering a return to play that actually has some relevance.

The indications that they are preparing to ask UEFA if there would be implications for scrapping the FAI Cup and freezing relegation is slightly troubling. It's understood that certain clubs are keen on abandoning the flagship competition as taking it out of the calendar would free up weekends to cram the remaining 18 games into a three month sprint and potentially put extra cash into the compensation pot.

But aligned with a move to take relegation out of the equation, that would create a bizarre situation where, if recent league tables are anything to go by, half the league would have nothing to play for from an early stage. 

Football without fans is bad enough, and the climate will hopefully continue to improve in that regard. Football without meaning doesn't really appeal at all. If the plan is to experiment in streaming and capitalise on a gap in the domestic sporting market delivered by inter county GAA going on hold until October, then it's best to make sure the comeback doesn't become a farce.

To avoid confusion here; the battle to take relegation out of the picture has comes from a reasonable enough place.

Even Dundalk chairman Bill Hulsizer acknowledged the other day that relegating struggling Sligo Rovers on the basis of 18 games would be desperately unfair. After four defeats to start the season, they expected to have 32 games to save themselves rather than 14.

Angle

Mind you, the Louth club have their own angle on that and we likely haven't heard the last of it. Having lost that epic Tallaght thriller to Shamrock Rovers which seems like a lifetime ago, they would have just 13 games left to catch up with the Hoops.

As they have at least two European ties to factor into the sprint to the line, there are senior figures at the club ready to argue that the all important Champions League spot should not be determined by a curtailed season arising from the desire of other clubs to avoid extending contracts beyond the start of November. If relegation is frozen, they will argue that the season would be further invalidated.

Hence, a preference for resetting the points total or using the first half of next term to decide European places for 2021/22. Would the stance be different if they had come out on the right side of the five goal thriller? One can only speculate, but this is a row brewing.

Cash is king here, of course, and in the understandable desperation to avoid the disastrous loss of a season, creativity has been sidelined when perhaps it might deliver the best of both worlds. 

Don't ditch the cup. It gives purpose to seasons that are tailing off, although the top two sides have contested the last five finals. Either way, it's an important showcase and we should be well placed to have a reasonably sized crowd by November.

If the calendar is a problem, push the semi finals and final back to the end of the season and play them off in a week, tournament style, spreading prize funds in case it requires extending contracts for participants.  

Relegating a side on the basis of just two rounds of games would be unfair. So give them a chance to save themselves. Maybe, the second from bottom placed side should be dragged into that equation too.

First Division clubs just want two teams to be promoted to make a 12 team top flight for 2021 and that's the alternative to a no relegation proposal. For if there's no promotion, there's no point in the First Division resuming.

But if there are questions about the legitimacy of a champion off the strength of an 18-game season, and UEFA are prepared to allow host associations settle competitions in unorthodox ways, then what about an MLS style league decider between the top two?

Give the team with the most points home advantage. Or if the proponents of scrapping the FAI Cup somehow get their way, bring it to the Aviva so we can finish a season to forget on a high.

The forecast has improved considerably, but there's still a few storm clouds lingering.

There is growing belief that the season can restart provided the FAI board sign off on a new package which is still heavily shaped by the prospect of state and FIFA aid.

A reflection of the optimism is that Finn Harps have made plans to resume training next week, and Sligo Rovers, St Patrick's Athletic and Cork are all communicating with their squads. Waterford have advertised for a new manager and their intentions remain unclear.