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What Happens To Clubs Who Join The League of Ireland? A Brief History

What Happens To Clubs Who Join The League of Ireland? A Brief History
By John Dodge Updated

This week Kerry FC announced through the SSE Airtricity League that they have been accepted into the licensing application process for the 2023 season. That's no guarantee that they'll be accepted - Tralee Dynamos had an unsuccessful application in 2012 for example - but any group contemplating entry into the LOI know that however tough it is to get a club into the league, it's even harder to stay there. A third tier has been mooted for the league for some years now and we don't know yet if Kerry FC are looking to play in the second tier (where only 9 clubs play currently) or the new third tier.

The second tier, the First Division, as introduced in 1985 and ushered in the League of Ireland’s first major expansion. 6 teams were added to help create the new two-division league. Cork  City and Longford Town were added in 1984, before the First Division, so the league jumped from 14 clubs to 22 clubs in just over 12 months.  Since then many clubs have entered the First Division.  Some have been more successful than others. We set out the history of all 17 First Division new entrants below.

1985/86

  • Derry City (1985 to present)

Undoubtedly the biggest club to enter the league through the First Division, Derry’s rise to prominence in the LOI was almost immediate. After leaving the Irish League in 1972, Derry entered the LOI with no shortage of fanfare and with a huge support.  They won the (now-defunct) First Division Shield in the first season, the Division title (and promotion) in the second season and in their 4th season they won the treble of League, FAI Cup and League Cup.  Those huge crowds haven’t stayed but Derry have added 1 more league title, 4 more FAI Cups and a staggering 10 more League Cups. Derry’s only other first division season was as a Zombie* club in 2010. They won their 2nd First Division title. With investment from Billionaire Philip O'Doherty they're expected to challenge for trophies regularly over the next few years.

Years in PD; 34

Years in FD; 3

Best Finish; Champions

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  • Bray Wanderers (1985 to present)

Bray Wanderers were the first ever First Division champions.  They weren’t the first club from the Wicklow town to play LOI football though as Bray Unknowns played 19 seasons from 1924/25 to 1942/43 (with little success).  They’ve won the First Division 3 times in total and in 1990 were the first club to win the FAI Cup/First Division double (adding another FAI Cup in 1999). Bray have very much been a yoyo club throughout their tenure in the league having won promotion 6 times. In the off season they merged/took over/were taken over by Cabinteely FC. More on that later.

Years in PD; 23

Years in FD; 14

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Best Finish; 4th

  • Cobh Ramblers (1985-2008, 2013 to present)

The first Cork based LOI team not to play in the city, Cobh Ramblers time in the LOI has been more steady than spectacular. Perhaps best known for giving Roy Keane a senior debut, they have won promotion 3 times, including winning the First Division in 2007. In 2009 they became the  first club to be outright denied a licence to play in the LOI (Zombie* clubs excepted). After playing in the A Championship, Cobh made a welcome return to the LOI (proper) in 2013 and have stayed in the First Division since.

Years in PD; 4

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Years in FD; 29

Best Finish;  10th

  • Newcastle United/Newcastle West (1985-1990)

Newcastle United became the second team from Limerick to join the league in 1985. They played their first season as Newcastle United before changing to Newcastle West for subsequent seasons.  They stayed for only 5 unremarkable seasons with only some shock cup wins making their mark. They returned to the Limerick Desmond League and remained there for a number of years. Newcastle West Town is the current name of the team that represents the area.

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Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 5

Best Finish; 6thin FD, 18th overall

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  • Monaghan United (1985 - 2012)

The youngest club to enter the expanded First Division in 1985 (they were set up in 1979), Monaghan had to play 8 seasons in the FD before winning promotion; winning the first ever promotion/relegation play off against Waterford United.  They won promotion twice after that but never won a trophy in the LOI. They folded midway through the 2012 Premier Division season under Roddy Collins being unable to secure funding to finish the season.

Years in PD; 3 (+1 expunged)

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Years in FD;24

Best Finish; 7th

  • EMFA/Kilkenny City (1985-2007)

EMFA (an amalgam of Emmet Street and Fatima Avenue) was the pet project of Jim Rhatigan and under his stewardship moved up the ranks to LOI football in 1985, finishing bottom of the league that first season. In 1989 they changed their name to Kilkenny City in an attempt to appeal to a wider market. In 94/95 they completed the worst ever FD season losing 25 of 27 games and finishing on 2 points. Only 2 years later they won the FD title and promotion. Another promotion came in 2000 but both PD stays only lasted one season (co-incidentally each season saw the league title clinched in Buckley Park each year).  In 2007 they finished bottom of the FD and decided not to apply for league membership for 2008. Buckley Park's relatively isolated location didn't help bring out the local football fans but they're

Years in PD; 2

Years in FD; 21

Best Finish; 11th

1990/91

  • St James Gate (1990-1996)

After Newcastle West pulled out in 1990, the league looked for a club to step and fill the gap. While their preference was for a provincial club, none stepped up so they looked to Dublin. The first ever LOI winners St James Gate re-entered the league having left in 1944 (with 2 league titles to their name). The originally Guinness-backed, Crumlin-based club spent 6 seasons in the First Division. Their last season was under new management who moved the club into Tolka Park and invested in the team looking for promotion (e.g. future international Dominic Foley signed). When they finished 5th, they packed it in and left a bit of debt behind them. The Gate reformed as part of the Guinness sports clubs and re-entered the Leinster Senior League.

Years in PD; 0 (24 in previous spell)

Years in FD; 6

Best Finish; 5th in FD, 17th overall (Champions in previous spell)

1996/97

  • St Francis (1996-2001)

To replace St James Gate up-stepped another Dublin club St Francis. They had reached the FAI Cup final in 1990 and manager Pete Mahon was still around to shepherd them into the LOI.  Originally from Dublin’s Liberties, they played games in the west of the city at John Hyland Park in Baldonnel.  In 1999 they began to use the Fingal St Francis name for sponsorship reasons despite not playing in Fingal. Before the start of the 2001/02 season, a merger was proposed with St Patrick’s Athletic and St Francis pulled out of the league with no time to replace them. The planned merger eventually broke down and St Francis reformed in the Leinster Senior League. With a strong underage set up, St Francis spoke recently about plans to re-join the LOI.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 5

Best Finish; 8th in FD, 20th overall

2001/02

  • Dublin City (2001-2006)

In the confusing world of LOI club origins, Dublin City may be the murkiest. Some will claim that it was just a re-branding of Home Farm. Others will point to the 2 years as Home Farm Fingal  in the late 90s as the start of this new club. We’re going with 2001 and Dublin City’s entry into the league as a new club as the owners were new and wanted nothing to do with the great Home Farm club. The gimmick with Dublin City was the name which chairman Ronan Seery hoped would unite the capital in a bid for a European super league spot. Their merchandise deal with Carroll's Gift Stores certainly gave them visibility but the public didn't really care. They played home games in Whitehall, Richmond Park and finally Dalymount Park without ever really expanding their fanbase past friends and families. They did earn promotion twice though with the second being via a play off win over Shamrock Rovers at the end of 2005. Halfway through the 2006 season they became the first club to fold mid-season in modern times and LOI fans were introduced to the word expunged.

Years in PD; 1 (+1 expunged)

Years in FD; 4

Best Finish; 10th

2002/03

  • Kildare County (2002-2009)

The first non-Dublin team to join the league since 1985, Kildare County emerged from the Leinster Senior League club Newbridge Town. Having seen what happened to St Francis, Newbridge members insisted the new club be set up separately, although with many of the same club people involved. Immediately in the hunt for promotion, Kildare County never quite managed to get up despite being competitive until 2007. In 2008 they lost the first ever First Division/A Championship relegation/promotion play off (to Mervue United) but survived in the league thanks to Cobh not being awarded a licence. The following season they again finished bottom but pulled out of the play offs and the club folded.  Their most high profile appearance wasn’t football related.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 8

Best Finish; 4th in FD, 14th overall

2007

  • Wexford Youths/Wexford FC (2007 to present)

Before he was a politician, the entrepreneur Mick Wallace was looking for ways to extend his successful rein with the Wexford underage teams. No stranger to LOI football, he set up Wexford Youths in 2007 and they’ve remained in the league ever since with only a Nama-enforced name change in 2017 (which saw them drop the Youths part to become Wexford FC - the very successful Women's team remained Wexford Youths). Wexford Youths won the First Division in 2015, spending one season in the Premier Division.

Years in PD; 1

Years in FD; 15

Best Finish; 11th

2008

  • Sporting Fingal (2008-2010)

Set up with the help of Fingal County Council, Sporting Fingal were scheduled to join the A Championship for the 2008 season. When Kilkenny City pulled out of the league, they entered the FD instead. With a budget that could have competed in the top league, Fingal finished 4th that first season. The following season they won promotion through the play off (beating Shelbourne and Bray) before dramatically winning the FAI Cup with 2 late goals against Sligo Rovers. Manager Liam Buckley guided them to 4th place in the PD in 2010 (European qualification) before it all went dramatically wrong.   Benefactor Gerry Gannon pulled out and the County Council were no longer willing to fund it. Fingal ceased operations a month before the start of the 2011 season.

Years in PD; 1

Years in FD; 2

Best Finish; 4th

2009

  • Mervue United (2009-2013)

Mervue United joined the inaugural A Championship in 2008. That November they beat Kildare County to become the first team ever to win promotion to the FD. They finished 11th in their opening 2 season but made steady improvements the following years. In their last season they finished 3rd and entered the promotion play off (losing to Longford Town). They left the league in 2013 to make way for the new, unified, Galway side.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 5

Best Finish; 3rd in FD, 15th overall.

2010

  • Salthill Devon (2010-2013)

A year after Mervue won promotion, Salthill Devon won promotion without evening kicking a ball in their play-off against Kildare County (who withdrew from the league). Salthill Devon had a terrible time in the league and finished bottom each year. They played one year as SD Galway in Terryland Park but the general public of Galway weren’t fooled. They can lay claim to being the worst LOI club of all time. They left the league, with Mervue, after the 2013 season to facilitate the zombie Galway FC club coming into the league as the sole Galway representative in the league.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 4

Best Finish; 8th in FD, 20th overall.

2014

  • Shamrock Rovers B (2014),Shamrock Rovers II (2020)

The A Championship ran between 2008 and 2011. It was replaced by the under 19s league but there was a gap between those sides and senior teams. Desperately needing a 20th league club with the Galway contingent being reduced,  the FAI and Shamrock Rovers agreed that they would enter a team in the First Division for 2014. They spoke about the development as a necessary step in producing top class players and despite being removed after the 2014 season, didn't give up and again entered a team in 2020 when the league needed it. The grumbling among other First Division clubs almost put a stop to it, and Rovers were stopped from entering in 2021 when Treaty United entered. If a third tier is introduced, Rovers B/II will certainly be a part of it.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 2

Best Finish; 6th in FD, 18th overall.

2015

  • Cabinteely FC (2015-2021)

One of the more surprising entrants into LOI football, Cabinteely FC were admitted ahead of the 2015 season replacing Shamrock Rovers B and bringing the LOI back to 20 clubs. Playing their games out of Blackrock RFC's Stradbrook ground, they entered the league in a blaze of social media using every trick in the viral handbook to get noticed. They rarely made a mark on the pitch though with their 4th place finish in 2019 being the high point. As divisions grew between the DDSL club and the LOI side, and without the guiding hand of original driving force Larry Bass, the decision was made near the end of 2021 that Cabinteely in its current guise couldn't continue. Last December Cabo and Bray Wanderers announced a merger. It emerged that the Bray Wanderers name would be retained, they'd play in Bray's Carlisle Grounds but the majority of the board would be made up of ex-Cabo stalwarts.  Effectively, the people behind Cabinteely's LOI side had taken control of Bray Wanderers. Cabinteely FC continue in underage football, but not at the national level.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 7

Best Finish; 4th in FD, 14th overall.

2015

  • Treaty United (2021 to present)

Treaty United emerged from the wreckage of Limerick to provide senior football in the city. At short notice, Tommy Barrett cobbled together a squad and performed miracles to finish 4th and in a play off position. This year they'll finish in the middle of the pack as the young clu continues to grow. To their great credit, Treaty also have a team in the Women's National League.

Years in PD; 0

Years in FD; 1

Best Finish; 4th in FD, 14th overall.

Zombie Clubs

You may have spotted several mention of Zombie clubs in this article. This refers to existing LOI clubs who have, for different reasons, ceased to operate in the league but are subsequently replaced by a club with the same name (eventually). In 2007 Limerick FC were refused a licence. They were replaced by Limerick 37 who changed names back to Limerick FC in 2009. That club considered the history of the old club as theirs. They were refused a licence of their own ahead of the 2020 season and Limerick were without a senior team for a season. 2021 saw Treaty United enter and while we're open to accusation of hypocrisy here, we don't consider them a zombie club (as Limerick FC still operates at underage level).

At the end of the 2009 season Cork City were wound up and Derry City folded. Derry's new club immediately assumed the Derry City name. Cork's first few months were played as Cork FORAS before assuming the name Cork City. There are arguments that both these clubs are brand new but there's enough of a tie for them to be called Zombie clubs.

Galway United were refused a licence in 2011, and exited the LOI. In 2014 a new team called Galway FC was created with input from all the Galway clubs, FA etc. They won promotion and renamed themselves Galway United for 2015.  Fans on these clubs consider them to be a continuation of the same clubs.  For the purpose of this article, they clearly weren't "new" entrants to the league so the Zombie clubs moniker applies.

 

 

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