Tuesday wasn't the greatest PR day ever for the SSE Airtricity League. The Irish Independent went with "League of Ireland facing chaos after licence farce". We'll let you make your own mind up on that.
Here's how the day panned out.
Shortly after lunchtime a press release from the "Independent Club Licensing Committee" listed those clubs who had been awarded a licence.
The clubs listed with Premier Division licences were;
Bohemians, Cork City, Derry City, Drogheda United, Dundalk, Galway United, Limerick, Longford Town (incorrectly named Longford FC on the release), Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Waterford United and St Patrick's Athletic.
The clubs who received First Division licences were;
Finn Harps, UCD, Shelbourne and Wexford Youths.
We already knew that Cabinteely had been awarded a licence for the First Division.
Three clubs were missing. The committee sought "further clarification" from Bray Wanderers and "further information" from Athlone Town and Cobh Ramblers.
What It Means
As things stand, there's 17 clubs in the LOI. As Waterford United were one of 12 clubs to a Premier Division licence they would theoretically start 2015 in the top division. The First Division would be left with only 5 clubs. That would indeed be a farce.
Why It May Not Be A Farce
The FAI/ICLC seeking further information or documentation is not unusual. In 2014 Wexford and Cobh were asked. In 2013 Dundalk needed to provide further information. Sources within Bray Wanderers have already made noises to the effect that their licence will be issued on Monday and Athlone and Cobh are both likely to be OK too. The FAI Club Licencing Manual is 150 pages long. Clubs are asked for an incredible amount of documentation. It's not too hard to see how the odd things falls through the cracks.
Limerick and Markets Field
About 4 hours after being awarded a Premier Division licence, Limerick announced that their new home at Markets Field won't be ready for the first month of the season. It was a big blow to the club. For the past 2 seasons they have rented Thomond Park which, despite its excellent facilities, wasn't suitable for a club their size.
Who's Fault Is It?
Limerick chairman Pat O'Sullivan last month spoke about how Limerick football having their own home was always his plan. In 2011 JP McManus bought the site which was to be developed by the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership (LEDP). The linked Limerick Leader article speaks about a 2012 opening. The initial designs were very impressive.
Work began in September 2013. It quickly became apparent that those ambitious plans were to be greatly scaled back. Instead of an 8,000 seater stadium, Markets Field would house about a quarter of that with even those facilities being developed in stages. A planning application was submitted in December 2013 and welcomed by the football club. It wasn't until November 2014 that a construction tender was sought. It very much appears that despite Limerick FC craving a new home ground, their will isn't matched with the LEDP.
Poor Pat O'Sullivan
Only 2 weeks ago Limerick chairman Pat O'Sullivan made a statement confirming he would no longer be investing in the club to the level he had been doing. Speaking on local radio that night he again confirmed his belief that Markets Field would be ready for the 2015 season kick off. Yesterday's news was clearly a personal blow to Mr O'Sullivan and supporters in Limerick are left wondering what the futute holds.
Whatever about their long-term worries, Limerick have a week to sort out a home venue for their opening game of the season against Bohemians. It was widely reported at the start of the year (as the Markets Field saga dragged on) that Bohemians had been sounded out about switching the tie to Dalymount Park (with the return game in Limerick later in the season). With news that at least 3 "home" games will be effected (and perhaps more - the statement issued yesterday talks of a review of the situation in April), the likelihood of Limerick starting with 5 straight away games doesn't sound feasible. If the chairman is lowering his financial contributions, how can they pay wages for those 5/6 weeks? Jackman Park, Limerick's ground for their 2012 promotion season), is not PD standard. They may receive a derogation from the FAI but that's unlikely.
A return to Thomond Park is the most likely option. It will clearly be expensive but the football club may be looking for LEDP to foot the bill for this seeing as they have dragged their feet on the Markets Field development. It may even be a combination of some games switching, while Thomond host others.
It's not ideal but the LOI is a robust league. Even now the most likely scenario for the opening weekend is that all 20 clubs are in action and within the first few weeks we'll see everyone in their own ground. Limerick are clearly the biggest losers here as a return to their "spiritual home" was just the kind of good news story they could have promoted. Hopefully they can do that in April.
Feature Pic; Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE