Sunday 19 January 2020

Rovers' plan B deserves clubs' careful consideration of pros and cons

Jack Taylor. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack Taylor. Photo: Sportsfile

The first big decision in a more democratic League of Ireland has brought threats of legal action and talk of boycotts.

Plans to allow a Shamrock Rovers 'B' team take up the spot in the First Division vacated by Limerick have created a mood of anarchy.

In doing so, it's highlighting the main problem with clubs having a greater say in their destiny and that's balancing the contrasting aims of full-time clubs in the Premier and part-time or amateur operations in the second tier.

This will take work. The 'First Division Alliance' would rather a nine-team league than Rovers coming in as the 10th side.

Yes, there is no doubt that a revived Limerick or a new regional presence would be preferable to this solution. And the rationale for any decision needs to be communicated to clubs, with firm terms and conditions attached.

But the dramatic language used in opposition is curious, especially the suggestion it might 'demean' Ireland's second tier. Really?

Is an idea which exists in other European countries more damaging than the sub-standard facilities for players and spectators?

Is it more troubling than the contingent of players who don't get paid for their pre-season work, and then sign amateur contracts which mean they are paid 'expenses'?

Is it more harmful to integrity than a basket-case reputation in betting markets arising from match-fixing investigations and analysis of the Asian markets?

Yes, it's desperately unfair to label all of the individuals tirelessly working at that level for little reward with the above problems.

But the First Division has bigger image problems to contend with than a Rovers 'B' side which won't be able to compete for promotion. Attendances are low for a reason.

Perhaps it's a headache for those clubs who might have fancied competing for some of the same players at senior or underage level, but that's a matter of self-interest rather than a big-picture view.

And let's look at it from the players' perspective. It would be better for the development of these youngsters to train in a full-time environment at Roadstone rather than the slog of evening sessions in an inferior backdrop.

Tallaght will also be the best stadium in the division, with a playing surface and dressing-rooms of a higher standard, with Galway the only real rival.

It's preferable to venues that also host rugby, or those stadiums which lack hot water.

In truth, Rovers are never going to win any popularity contests as a club, and they have ruffled feathers with the expansion of their schoolboy wing.

They need to make their academy pay and it hasn't all been plain sailing, although they have had much more success than other clubs when it comes to securing fees for departing players.

This seems pertinent in another week where local talents have left for next to nothing whereas Irish U-21 international Jack Taylor can leave non-league Barnet to join League One Peterborough for a fee of £500,000 (€589,000) rising to £1m (€1.18m).

Rovers have tried to put some youngsters on long-term deals to protect their position, but they have to let the bulk of them leave once they reach 19 because there's nowhere else to go. Other top clubs are keen on the 'B' angle because it might allow them to keep or recruit more players in that age bracket too.

The gulf between the haves and the have-nots is a major problem for the game here. But if a method to address that is to try and hold back leading clubs, then everybody is going nowhere.

It doesn't look good to try to halt a plan that can give aspiring pros chances in a better environment

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