Behind the 8 ball

A few weeks back, Waterford United made much of the fact that they were holding the price of a season ticket at last season’s rate. “The Airtricity League First Division is expected to comprise 12 teams this season, which will mean 16 or 17 home matches” went the blurb.

Oh silly Blues! Did they not realise this was the FAI they were dealing with? The big reveal for the 2012 Airtricity First Division is that despite efforts to get Red Star Oughterard and FC United of Moycullen on board, there will be eight teams in the division for the new season. So the proposition that the season ticket represented great value for money, always a bit of stretch as it assumed you’d be in a position to go to all 16/17 games, has now completely gone down in flames. It’s like trying to fit a pint into a quart pot.

The worst part is the quality of the opposition. How are you meant to get the blood up at the prospect of meeting any of this lot four times a year? At least in previous seasons you had the likes of Derry City, Shelbourne and whatever flavour of stout was oozing out of Cork that wasn’t Guinness coming to the RSC. In 2012, the most exciting prospect is a notional derby with Mick Wallace’s crew. Liverpool v Manchester United it ain’t.

And you don’t even need to look cross-channel to see more exciting clashes. It’s conceivable that the matches between the Dublin heavyweights of Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic will generate more bums on seats than every game in the First Division combined. And thus the rich (relatively speaking) get richer and the poor get poorer, all so we can prop up the flawed concept of the two division League of Ireland.

No doubt some would argue this is a self-serving Blue trying to perform an end-run around Waterford’s repeated failure to get promoted, and there’d be some merit to that argument. But it isn’t just Waterford fans who must find it hard to get enthused by the fixture list. Would a potential Wexford Youth not be more energised if they knew Shamrock Rovers were coming to Ferrycarrig at least once a year? Is it not galling for Finn Harps fans to be trudging around the country, all the while passing Sligo and Derry but never getting to take a pit stop there? Won’t someone please think of the children?

I’m sure the First Division was started with the best of intentions, a reaction to the need to give meaning to dreary end-of-season games where there is no promotion or relegation. And I guess that problem will return in a one division League. But can anyone say that’s an inferior scenario to the current one, where a micro-league exists just to put the fear of God into those in the proper league that they might be banished from it? It’s time for the authorities to cut their losses on the First Division. Time to give every club a chance to sell a season ticket that’s worth buying.