Posts Tagged ‘FAI|League of Ireland|soccer’

Okay this is your chance to roll out all of those energy-related puns that you had stored up as everyone attempts to get familiar with the name of the Airtricity League.

The new sponsor of the League of the Ireland brings in some fresh attention, although it is not yet clear if the deal will be as profitable as when eircom were on board a few years ago.

Then again eircom did little to show any interest in the domestic game, so this is a chance for Airtricity to really exploit their involvement with the league by steaming ahead with marketing campaigns and having a visible presence over the course of their three-year deal.

Prizemoney from the FAI may not be as high this year, but shouldn't that be expected as the entire economy tries to get back to a stable footing? A reality check in the domestic game has been a long time in coming.

Breathing new life into Cork football

Everyone has been scribbling their sorry notes and saying how sad it is that Cork City have gone, but there was little sympathy or support shown to the players and staff who went unpaid for large periods last season.

Perhaps, this blog could be accused of the same thing, although posts published here over the past year warned that trouble was brewing down by the Lee and it was only a matter of time before the club imploded.

The good news is that Tom Coughlan is now gone (hopefully never to be seen in charge of a football club again) and FORAS, the supporter group, have a chance of starting from scratch with Cork City FORAS Co-op.

Don't be fooled though. It won't be easy for the new Cork City to replicate the success that Shamrock Rovers are currently revelling in following their own takeover a few years back. It will take time to get a structure in place, but at least they are starting with the right intentions.

Let's focus on the football

With the new season comes a new hope that the stories generated in the media over the coming months can derive from the positive impact that is made on the pitch by League of Ireland teams.

Of course, that is wishful thinking although there is a chance to spin the perception of the league back towards a positive one if the Premier Division is competitive, the First Division title race is gripping, Cork and Derry City are re-emerge as strong forces and European progression is made.

One of the main reasons why the league switched to summer football was to help Irish clubs advance on the European front. While there have been some great strides made by Shelbourne, Drogheda United, Derry and St Patrick's Athletic, this year could be a little different.

Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and Sporting Fingal arguably have squads better equipped to deal with the demands of the European game and they could just triumph.......let's hope so anyway!

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Roll up, Roll up......the latest saviour of Cork City is ready to proclaim a new testament. With grand ambitions of directing the financially crippled club back towards the light and righting the wrongs of the past, expect to feel a sense of deja vu.

For those foolhardy enough to resist the the urge to march to the new piper's tune there should be a few objectives bellowed out that might even see their furrowed brows flutter with a tinge of excitement. New owners always tend to rattle off a few things that can rouse even the most sceptical of supporters.

Of course, it will take a lot more than a sugar-coated speech to get things back to a structure that the FAI inspectors, along with everyone else, feels is up to scratch and able to withstand the pressure that will come once the League of Ireland storm begins to howl.

But this is a start.....a new start......that needs to happen if the cocktail of doom & gloom is to be swallowed and harsh truths are to be faced. There won't be any sign of Lady Luck on the banks of the Lee during this period, just the Revenue vultures watching on with a steady gaze.

So as the new consortium prepares to take control, they will ask their investors two direct questions - Can this club be saved? And is it worth saving? On both counts, it will be a resounding yes, although it will cost a lot to clear the debt and get the team back to a level where they are able to compete for the top honours.

A little bit of history repeating

In case you have fallen behind already in this lesson, we will do a quick recap to fill in the blanks about how Cork managed to get to themselves into such a mess that if new investors do not come onboard then they might just slip into extinction five weeks ahead of the new season kicking off.

Cork, as you may have guessed, are one of the biggest clubs in the domestic game. They have won the league twice, the FAI Cup twice, the League Cup three times and the Setanta Sports Cup once, which is pretty impressive considering they were only founded in 1984 (there have been other Cork teams before them).

Along with some excellent players, they have had some top class managers down through the years. However, in recent times, things have been quite sour for the club as investment firm Arkaga promised big things before pulling out when the debts started to rise in 2008.

Having slipped into Examinership, the Leesiders were saved - or so they thought - when local businessman Tom Coughlan took over. But his reign at the helm has been just as disastrous with two winding up orders issued, fan protests becoming a regular sight at Turner's Cross, payment not given to countless people & companies, and the once strong squad they had completely disappearing.

As things currently stand Coughlan is considering an offer from a consortium to sell up. As well as being banned by the FAI from football for twelve months due to his mishandling of club affairs last year, he is also one of the main reasons why a huge section of Cork supporters created a group called FORAS and are threatening to boycott the club unless he leaves.

Up to speed now? Okay, so let's crack on with the latest attempt to save Cork City and why this consortium are interested.

Potential to grow and grow

The attendance figures that Cork have clocked up through the years have been superb, so there is definitely a market for domestic football in the city. This is probably the most attractive point for the consortium eager to take over as they will surely have their own ideas of how best to get the fans through the turnstiles.

There is also the opportunity to help the club advance on the European stage. Despite their troubled season last term they did qualify for the Europa League qualifiers, but their new manager, Roddy Collins, does not hold the necessary coaching qualifications, so something may have to happen on that front or else they will miss out on it this year.

Nevertheless, progression in Europe is something that Cork are capable of achieving in the longer term once they get back to a solid structure. Arkaga wanted to use the club as a vehicle to get to the Uefa Champions League group stages, but they had little patience. If this new group stick around long enough they might be able to help Cork enjoy a successful run in Europe.

Then there is the League of Ireland. While Cork have always been one of the stronger teams, a lot of rebuilding has to be done if they are to retain their status as one of the Premier Division heavyweights. Is Collins the right man to lead them? Can they attract the right sort of players?

Let the money do the talking

If this new consortium do take over from Coughlan, then they will have to act quickly to convince the club's supporters that they are getting involved for the right reasons and know how to run a business properly. The best way they can do that is by paying off the huge debts currently weighing the club down.

From ex managers (Alan Mathews and Paul Doolin) to a flurry of ex players to current staff members, it appears that everyone who had any dealing with Cork City last year are owed some form of payment. Until they are paid up there is little point in pumping money into a business struggling to stay afloat in the murky waters of debt.

Ideally, Cork will be a Premier Division club this season with sensible new owners, a decent squad and a way of playing in Europe. But the false promises that have plagued their recent history will warn them that doing too much too soon could bring everything down like a house of cards. Steady steps are needed to get them back on the right track.

It is hard to predict how things will pan out for the club, but at least they have a chance to start over with new investors ready to seize on the potential and deliver where others failed to. All eyes will be fixed on the club over the coming weeks.
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The new year is only a few weeks old and already the calls for the merging of the two professional soccer leagues in Ireland have started.

It is a proposal that was brought to the forefront last year when Platinum One chairman Fintan Drury attempted to drum up support from various clubs from both sides of the border. But his plan was seriously flawed.

Not only did Drury's suggested two-tier league alienate several clubs, it merely acted as a super league for the so-called 'biggest' clubs on the island. No wonder it didn't get any support from the FAI.

However, FAI CEO John Delaney has previously stated that he is open to the possibility of an All-Ireland league - just not now. He is right, the timing simply does not suit either the League of Ireland or the IFA Premiership.

The best way to even gauge whether such a merger would work is through the Setanta Sports Cup. But that competition is in danger of sinking into extinction and its demise would be a real tradegy.

SOS for Setanta Cup

With Derry City thrown out this week and rumours circulating from the Irish League that certain clubs are threatening to withdraw, some help is needed to revive the only cross-border competition currently running.

As well as providing a platform for players from both leagues to go head-to-head, it is a cup that provides generous prize money that no club on the island can say they don't need.

From a footballing perspective it is also a tournament that excites supporters, although the gloss has been stripped away somewhat over the last twelve or so months due to the fixture lists of both leagues overlapping.

The only way that the Setanta Cup and a possible All-Ireland league will ever work is by having the two leagues starting and finishing at the same time. Summer football appears to be the best model to adopt, but the Irish League have so far refused to make that switch.

For now, more emphasis should be placed on keeping the Setanta Cup alive as it still has an important part to play in the domestic game.

O'Neill has a point, but......

Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill was the one who ignited the All-Ireland league debate again this week when quizzed by journalists at a press conference. His points were well put, but the merger is not something that would be easy to create.

Everything from stadium facilities to travel expenses to transfer windows would have to be looked at before the green light could be given to the formation of a new league.

"I think it's something that needs to be looked at again, especially given the problems that particularly existed in this league last year and are starting to surface in the league in the north as well," said O'Neill.

"The Irish league needs to realign its season and look at the season the way it's played down here.

"I think if the two seasons were aligned you could have a meaningful Setanta Cup at the end of the season - qualification for which would be dependent on league position."

O'Neill is spot on with that observation except it would be wrong for League of Ireland clubs to run away from their problems and hope that the money generated from a shiny new league would disguise their failings.
Timing is all wrong for link up
A lot of good work has been done behind the scenes to get each club towing the same line (with more still to do), so the League of Ireland should continue to focus on its own progression and aim to consistently make strides in Europe.
Right now, it would be a mistake for the FAI to commit to a merger that looks good on paper but would be difficult to put into practice.
If the two leagues had their seasons running alongside eachother then the Setanta Cup would hold more value and the first steps towards a united league could be taken.......but that is still a long way away.
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Finally some form of punishment has been dished out to Tom Coughlan - the controversial chairman of Cork City.

For too long he has mistreated his own staff, including management & players, sponsors, and anyone that really provides a service to The Leesiders as well as damaging the image of the League of Ireland.

On Thursday he was hit with a twelve-month ban from football-related activity and given a 5,000 fine after an FAI Discplinary Committee found him guilty of bringing the game into disrepute.

Coughlan intends to appeal the ban, although this hard stance taken by the FAI is exactly the type of thing that John Delaney hinted at and what is needed to get every club in line ahead of the 2010 season.

A change can do Cork good

While it won't be easy for them to pay off all of their bills and stay as one of the top clubs in the Premier Division without someone like Coughlan behind the scenes, Cork could do with starting over.

FORAS, the supporter group, have already submitted an application for a Newstalk A Championship licence. It would be a shame if the club had to drop down to the third tier of League of Ireland football, although they simply need to restructure.

Perhaps a new owner will step into Coughlan's place - if there is any club in the country that an investor would be interested in it is Cork. But Coughlan has yet to walk away and he has suggested that he will fight on.

When someone is doing more harm than good to a football club, someone needs to step in and say 'enough'. The FAI have now done that, so hopefully it clears the way for the Munster outfit to get back to a solid footing.

The fans deserve so much more

Roddy Collins wants the job of manager down at Turner's Cross. Of course he does. Damien Richardson, Alan Mathews and Paul Doolin have been the last three men in charge and even though all three (who are regarded as some of the best managers in the domestic game) were relatively successul, all of their reigns ended on a bitter note.

There is no doubt that Cork are an attractive club for players, managers and investors - mainly due to the fans. They are amongst the most vocal in the league, passionate in their support and charitable in their efforts of fundraising.

So isn't it about time that they had a stretch of a few years where things went right on and off the pitch? Perhaps this ban for Coughlan is the turning point for that to happen. Let's hope so.

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There was more than a hint of uncertainty of how yesterday's meeting in Leinster House between the FAI and a Joint Oireachtas Committee would go.

The committee, chaired by Deputy Tom Kitt, unloaded some long-winded questions towards an FAI panel fronted by Chief Executive John Delaney about what direction the League of Ireland is going in.

Rather than applying the type of pressure normally associated with such proceedings in Government buildings, this was a tame affair where Delaney was able to speak for over twenty minutes of the advancements that have been made in the domestic game since the FAI took over in 2006.

From the introduction of wage controls to revamping of league structures to changing the approach of how the league is marketed, each point was greeted with an enthusiastic nod from the TD's present, who were then impressed by a mini slideshow of how stadiums in Athlone, Cork, Galway, and Tallaght have been successfully redeveloped (or created in Tallaght's case).

It all felt a little too cosy in Committee Room 4, but then again should we surprised at the progress that the FAI have made with the domestic game? They have made a noticeable improvement and appear to be on the right track.

Put 'em under pressure

There were still some questions to answer, although the fireworks aimed at the FAI representatives hardly had a fuse attached as they escaped being asked the type of questions that would surely have led to even more negative headlines.

When Senator Paul Bradford suggested that the league was 'failing to capture the support' of the local community, it hinted at some pressure being applied, but nothing came of it.

Despite claiming that 'the worst is over, but there are difficulties to come', Delaney and co. escaped from a grilling over why certain clubs continue to mishandle their finances, why it can't be a good thing that 90 per cent of the players are out of contract, and why attendances are still not at the level they should be.

The FAI were able to strut out of the gates at Leinster House rather than sneak out the back door. Perhaps that suggests that they deserve more credit for what they have been doing, but there was clearly a missed opportunity from the Oireachtas Committee to ask some tough questions.

Government backing is needed

The most positive aspect of the meeting on Kildare Street was that the Government (or at least a small committee of TD's) are taking an interest in the League of Ireland. While some displayed limited knowledge of how the league is doing, there were a few politicians who spoke passionately about their local club.

Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, but Kitt did promise to pursue the issue of getting funding for a sports complex in Abbotstown on behalf of the FAI - which is definitely needed.

Regarding that stalled investment for Abbotstown, Delaney was hopeful that something could be done over the next few years but he understands why it is not a priority right now with the country struggling to climb out of a recession.

'I think it will happen at some stage, but I don't know what period it will happen,' said Delaney.

Tougher measures on the way

As preparations for the 2010 season start to speed up, the question of what the FAI will do to ensure that clubs don't suffer the same fates that befell Shelbourne, Cobh Ramblers, Drogheda United, Derry City and Cork City was answered as Delaney stated that the licencising committee will not grant licences if they are not happy with the budgets that clubs put forward.

If this hard line is taken then every club should be able to avoid off-field difficulties in the coming season. And if that happens then we can finally just focus on the football.

All eyes will be on the FAI over the coming months to see how they deal with the mess down in Cork, how Derry can get back to a solid structure, and how the new season can run smoothly with only the clubs with sustainable budgets involved.
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The curtains have been pulled across, the terraces have long been emptied, yet the confusion over certain matters still rumbles on - all signs that the end of another League of Ireland season has reached us.

Bohemians, as expected, retained their Premier Division crown, but had some unexpected competition in the final few weeks from Shamrock Rovers, which added an element of interest to the title race.

Bray Wanderers went tumbling towards the First Division as UCD past them on the way up following their league triumph in the second tier. Meanwhile, Drogheda United survived, Sporting Fingal won the play-off and got promoted.

No doubt the most surprising mover was Derry City, who were expelled from the league due to a dual contract system they were operating. It looks likely that they will be in the First Division next season.

In the cup competitions, Bohs beat Waterford United in the EA Sports Cup final, while Sporting staged a late comeback to stun Sligo Rovers in the FAI Ford Cup final. The Setanta Sports Cup stretches on into 2010.

As for Europe, there was some good, some bad. Bohs should have beaten Red Bull Salzburg, Derry hadn't got enough to get past Riga, Sligo made a mess of their adventure, but St Pat's did remarkably well in the Europa League.

Let's hear it for the heroes

It is tough to pick just one manager that deserves to be lauded for his efforts as Pat Fenlon, Michael O'Neill, Paul Cook (despite a terrible first-half to the season), Alan Mathews, Paul Doolin, Martin Russell, Liam Buckley, Dermot Keely and Stephen Henderson all did terrific jobs.

However, this blog is going to select Fenlon as the Manager of the Year. Not only did he guide Bohs to their first ever back-to-back title success, but he won the league cup, got to the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup, was incredibly unlucky in the Champions League, and handled all of the difficulties that hit his squad with the cool head that only an experienced manager knows how to use.

Stephen McGuinness, General Secretary of the PFAI, deserves a special mention too. He has worked tirelessly over the past number of months to fight and scrap for the rights of the league's players. It is very rare that the PFAI ever get any recognition, but they have a valuable role in helping the domestic game move forward and should be applauded for it.

While they could easily fit into the villan column as well, the FAI have done a lot this season to ensure the league tackles all of its problems. Okay, they have made some costly blunders and stricter measures still need to come in. Although to have them running the league means that there is now a level of professionalism in place that needs to be further strengthened if the League of Ireland is to grow as a league.

High hopes for the future

The Tallaght Stadium has been a major plus. Not only is it a ground that perfectly caters for the needs of a club with a large support base, but it acts as an example of the type of ground that other clubs should be looking to construct.

With so many young players making an impact in the league, the FAI's vision of using the domestic game as a platform for homegrown players to prove their worth and to mature as players appears to be working. Hopefully this continues and more talented youngsters opt to play for their local club.

The League of Ireland is set to move up a few places on the Uefa rankings due to how well its representatives, in particular St Pat's, performed this year. This is obviously great news as it means that the league will be viewed more seriously by other European nations and should ensure that the Irish teams compete on a level playing field.

Dishing out the awards

These end-of-season lists always cause a few people to raise their eyebrows in surprise at the admission of certain players and the omission of others. While this blog acknowledges that not everyone will be pleased with the final selection, the comment box is below if you want to have your say on a certain player or state who your team of the year would be.

Anyway, here are the Irish Soccer Blog's selections for the 2009 season......

Premier Division Team of the Year: Brian Murphy (Bohemians), Pat Sullivan (Shamrock Rovers), Brian Shelley (Bohemians), Ken Oman (Bohemians), Conor Powell (Bohemians), Gareth McGlynn (Derry City), Paul Keegan (Bohemians), Stephen Rice (Shamrock Rovers), Sean O'Connor (Shamrock Rovers), Raffaele Cretaro (Sligo Rovers), Gary Twigg (Shamrock Rovers)

Premier Division Player of the Year: Paul Keegan (Bohemians)

First Division Team of the Year: Damien Delaney (Shelbourne), Alan Carey (Waterford United), Kenny Browne (Waterford United), Kevin Murray (Waterford United), Evan McMillan (UCD), Conan Byrne (Sporting Fingal), Ronan Finn (UCD), David McAllister (Shelbourne), Shaun Williams (Sporting Fingal), Graham Cummins (Waterford United), Karl Bermingham (Monaghan United)

First Division Team of the Year: Conan Byrne (Sporting Fingal)
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Sligo Rovers experienced the bitterness of losing in a cup final after Sporting Fingal scored two late goals to win the FAI Ford Cup on Sunday.

It was the final chapter in the 2009 League of Ireland season and a decent-sized crowd (8,105) crammed into the Tallaght Stadium to witness Paul Cook's side slip when the finishing line was sight.

For those unaware of what happened, Eoin Doyle put The Bit O'Red in front before a Colm James penalty and an injury time header from Gary O'Neill clinched it for Sporting.

To describe it as a cruel blow for Sligo does not go near deep enough to describe the hurt that they felt when referee Alan Kelly blew the final whistle and indicate that Sporting had won the trophy for the first time in their short history.

Cook could be outward bound

With Stephen Kenny opting to stay put with Derry City, there are two managerial positions up for grabs in the Premier Division and Cook is being linked with both.

The Liverpool native has a reputation for being quite passionate, honest and humorous. But it is his ability as a manager that will be attracting the boards of both Dundalk and St Patrick's Athletic.

While he will feel that he still has some unfinished business at The Showgrounds, it is unlikely that Cook will have a big budget to work with next season and a new challenge might prove too tempting for him.

A squad capable of bouncing back

If Cook does stay with Sligo and is able to re-sign the bulk of his current squad, then his team should be one to watch next year. But some new faces are needed to give them some added strength.

Chris Turner has already been signed up and he would be the perfect midfield partner for Conor O'Grady, although none of the players (except for Matthew Blinkhorn) have yet to sign new deals.

A mass exodus might not happen, but the club might have to cope with losing key players like Gavin Peers and Raffaele Cretaro, who are both being tracked by so-called 'bigger' clubs.

After failing to collect the winner's cheque on offer in the FAI Cup final, Cook knows that his budget will not be as big as it would have been if his side hung on to win the cup - and that could ultimately decide how many players are lining out for the team next season.

Sporting defy expectations.....again

It would be rude to mention the cup final without offering congratulations to Sporting. They truly squeezed the most of the final stretch of the season to ensure that they will be treated with respect once the Premier Division campaign kicks off again in March.

Liam Buckley has done a superb job in the two years he has been at the helm and his good work was there for all to see on Sunday as his young side played an attractive brand of football that led them all the way to glory.

Promotion, a cup win and European football - not bad for a club only two years old. It will be interesting to see what players they sign in the off-season as they prepare for a first season in the top flight.
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