Opinion: The First Division Alliance is a necessary front amid the backdrop of blatant disrespect from the FAI and NLEC

Sat, Jan 11 2020

Following Thursday’s confirmation that Shamrock Rovers II – the Tallaght club’s reserve side – will enter the First Division as the tenth team in 2020, we asked extratime.ie reporters Andrew Dempsey and Dave Donnelly to present arguments for and against the initiative, which has been vigorously opposed by the First Division Alliance, representing the nine remaining second-tier clubs. Read Dave’s piece in favour of the proposal here.

It is no secret what the First Division Alliance (FDA) have been campaigning for in the last few weeks – a nine-team First Division in the wake of Limerick’s sorry, and tragic, demise.

However, in light of the Shannonsiders’ exit from the League of Ireland, a vacancy of sorts had been created – with Shamrock Rovers tempted to register a side in the second-tier.

We have seen this manifestation once prior and, while mildly competitive on the pitch, the venture failed to capture the imagination of the Hoops’ large support base.

Low crowds, and a general consensus that the proposal was a temporary fix, saw the Colin Hawkins-managed side being replaced at the end of the season by newcomers Cabinteely.

Speaking of Cabinteely, their chairman Larry Bass has been busy championing the notion that the second tier should not be used as a testing ground for the so-called bigger clubs.

In that, he is correct. Why should the FDA-aligned clubs be used to field teams that are in fact developing the bigger clubs’ players with in-game scenarios they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

They should not. On Shamrock Rovers B’s previous venture into the First Division, there was a need to fill the void left at the time.

Hence, why there was little to no peep of discontent at the time. But now, we are in a different time where this is not necessarily needed.

A nine-team First Division with four rounds of games not only ends the unavoidable home fixture bias, it also elongates the league season by a further five games – an item that a number of both players and supporters have long been supporters of.   

In 2014, there was only seven sides in the First Division prior to Shamrock Rovers B’s admission, and they appeared to be the only willing participants willing to step up to the plate.

As of today, there are nine teams who are more than willing and capable of pulling the strings in a competitive and compelling division, as they have previously.

Why should the likes of Cobh Ramblers, Athlone Town, Wexford and Cabinteely risk not just giving up a competitive advantage on the pitch, but also risking their off-the-field affairs for hosting a reserve team?

The first issue that stems from all this centres mainly around the lack of correspondence from the powers-that-be in regard to the developments of the proposal.

Surely, to bring in something as seismic as this once more, there should be communication and assurances made to attempt to at least reassure concerned clubs as to what may follow.

This, unfortunately, has not been the case. A number of First Division club officials have bemoaned the fact that there has been nothing from above discussing this.

And while a number of people will question why there should be correspondence or communication from the authorities – mainly the National League Executive Committee (NLEC) – it is more the principle of the clubs being left in the dark over this that is hard to take.

This, for a number of clubs is galling. Why should they have to rely on nothing more than media reports and the occasional slip of a tongue to realise what is going on?

They should not. The nine clubs in the First Division have more than a right to express what they feel is right for them.

If there was a third division, this would not be an issue – but, it’s the second highest level of professional football in this country, so why should it be used as a breeding ground for the elite clubs?

The First Division is on its knees as it is. So, what benefit will Shamrock Rovers II provide?

The benefits are difficult to come up with. And yes, this may appear small minded – which many have called the First Division clubs out for – but what way will sponsors look at things if the club they sponsor are struggling to compete with a reserve team?

Chances are, the outlook will not look too kind, especially given the culture of support in this league when things are going well versus times when things aren’t looking so well.

Finance and sponsors are scarce in the League of Ireland, and in the case of the First Division, they are even more difficult to find – especially towards the bottom half of the table, and why should they risk this?

Yes, clubs do need to get their house in order – but the First Division is in a quite delicate state as it is. Before we know it, the second-tier is just one club away from descending into ruins – so why risk it?

The precedent that this has set or could potentially be set, is concerning to say the least. Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth came out so far as yesterday in saying his club are interested in the proposal.

If Dundalk are also interested, what does that also mean for the other clubs who struggle to find places for players on their first-team pathway? 

If one club have considered the option considerably given the influence of another’s, there are probably other clubs exploring the option as well.

To suggest that it was a failure or disastrous the last time is difficult to agree with, especially given the fact that they only had one year in operation.

This time around, there is no real general consensus that this needs to happen.

There has been no sign of a collaborative approach to communications, and nor has there been any sort of respect shown to the clubs protesting this proposal.

Perhaps this may be different if there had been any sort of consultation with the clubs – but, from the face of it, and things may change yet, the smell of disregard for the First Division remains strong.

Respect can be shown in a number of ways, and that it clearly has not been whatsoever – and while this is disappointing, it comes as no real surprise to many in the second tier.

Even so far as last year’s SSE Airtricity League launch, in a promotional video for the league – there was only one still for the First Division despite it making up almost half of the games in the country.

This left a number of officials questioning what the point of the launch exactly was – especially given the fact they were ignored, not just by the public – but also by the governing body.

However, Shamrock Rovers as a club are blameless in all of this. To criticise them for wanting to progress in providing an improved player pathway for their players is ludicrous.

Rovers are also victims here. Like a number of clubs, they are trying to progress – and this episode clearly emphasises the point that they have been let down by the lack of a satisfactory player pathway in the League of Ireland.

For the FDA to also be criticised for their stance is absurd – especially given the attitude from the powers that be, which re-affirms why the FDA is a necessary front of defence.