Monday 27 January 2020

Gap growing between LOI's rich and poor

Greg Bolger (left) and Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers celebrate
Greg Bolger (left) and Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers celebrate

Fine margins settled the FAI Cup final, with only a kick of a ball between the two finalists.

But outside of the top two clubs in the country, it's a case of mind the gap, with serious fears that Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, who divided up the main trophies between them this season and also filled out the top two spaces in the league, will use their resources to make the League of Ireland a two-horse race for the next few years.

We're used to that - for five successive seasons, the top two contained Dundalk and Cork City, with 2019 seeing Rovers dislodge Cork in the top two.

But the gap between those title-chasing teams and the rest has been growing all the time. When Dundalk won the first Premier Division title in this spell of success (2014), the difference between the champions and the third-placed team (St Pat's) was just nine points.

Over the subsequent five campaigns, that gap between first and third has become a gulf: 13 points in 2015, 22 points in 2017, and in the season just gone a massive 26 points between the league winners (Dundalk) and Bohemians in third.

While the Rovers players enjoyed another day of celebration across the south side of Dublin yesterday, and Dundalk regrouped to face into a contest for another trophy (their two-legged battle with Linfield in the Unite The Union Cup), there was a harsh dose of reality for a batch of other players.

The players' union, PFAI, released the first draft of the annual list of players released by their clubs or out of contract, with 92 footballers out of work.

Some clubs have taken an axe to their squads: St Patrick's Athletic, who had a desperately disappointing season, have five players on that PFAI list but the club have told four more, who are still under contract, that they can leave.

Cork City, who finished 22 points ahead of Rovers in their league-winning year of 2017, are also rebuilding, stalwarts like Conor McCormack, Karl Sheppard and Garry Buckley allowed to go.

In owner Garrett Kelleher, Pat's have a wealthy backer but clubs like Cork, Bohemians and Sligo Rovers are member-owned and can only look on in wonder as Shamrock Rovers can throw an additional €2million in funding, from Dermot Desmond, into the kitty.

Bohs and Derry will compete in Europe next season, along with Dundalk and Rovers, but the chasm between the best and the rest may only get wider.

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