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Wednesday 22 January 2020

Hoops B team to get go-ahead

Rovers to enter second string and clear way for fixture list

Conor Dunne, Shamrock Rovers B, playing in the First Division back in 2014 against Longford Town’s Gary Shaw
Conor Dunne, Shamrock Rovers B, playing in the First Division back in 2014 against Longford Town’s Gary Shaw

Shamrock Rovers are expecting to get the nod today to field a B team in the League of Ireland First Division next season in place of the now-defunct Limerick.

And that will clear the way for league officials to issue the fixture list tomorrow for the 2020 season in the ten-team second tier, 19 days after the top flight's fixtures were announced and just over a month before the new campaign begins.

However, the league is no closer to agreeing a new overall structure as clubs await an update later this month from tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid on his plans for an all-island league.

Rovers had fielded a B team in Division One in the 2014 season, Colin Hawkins as manager of a side which finished sixth in an eight-team league, but the experiment was abandoned after one season.

Other clubs considered following Rovers' path with a B team at that time but backed off due to the financial demands of fielding another team with staff.

Keen to give their younger players more game time, Rovers had floated the idea of reviving the B team idea in 2020, before Limerick's exit from the league was confirmed.

And the departure of Limerick, who effectively collapsed in November when a rescue package could not be found for the club with debts of €490,000, allows the Hoops simply replace Limerick and avoid a scenario of having an uneven number of teams in the division. The seven members of the National League Executive Committee will vote today and while the two delegates from First Division clubs are expected to vote against the Rovers idea, there should be enough support for the plan from the other five for it to be carried.

There would be conditions attached to the B team's presence in the Division, like a guarantee that the B team could not get promoted or could not face the Rovers first team in the cup competitions.

Rovers would also have to select players for the B team from a defined squad list, with no more than four senior players available.

Rovers boss Stephen Bradley has spoken of his frustration at restricted chances to play some of the club's younger players and while Rovers did have players out on loan to Division One clubs last season, the club would prefer to have their fringe players train with Rovers and play for the B team in competitive games.

If Rovers' second attempt at the B team idea is a success, their Premier Division rivals may also explore the idea, a concern for clubs like Athlone Town and Cobh Ramblers who may fear they could be replaced, long-term, by a B team from the likes of Derry City or St Pat's.

Big clubs fielding a B team in a lower division is common in some European countries.

Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Utrecht and AZ Alkmaar all have B teams in Holland's second tier, though public interest in those teams is low: just 588 fans watched Ajax's B team in a league game last month. In Germany, Bayern Munich field a B team in the Bundesliga's third tier.

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