First among unequals

A prophet is never recognised in his own land, so that must make me a prophet. And I certainly felt like one this morning when reading Fran Gavin’s rationale for keeping the Premier Division of the League of Ireland at 12 teams for the 2013 season. I’ve read through it several times and can’t believe that the Irish soccer fraternity has not exploded with rage. Instead there is a sense of resignation about it all. Clearly there is nothing new in Gavin’s shoulder-shrugging attitude to the plight of the clubs in the First Division. I still have much to learn – assuming there’ll be a Waterford United around from which to learn.

Still, it’s worth breaking down what he has to say:

The board has the opinion that the 12-team Premier Division works. With promotion and relegation, there is something to play for right up until the end of the season.

I’m presuming ‘the board’ consists of the 19 League clubs, and you can’t blame the majority of turkeys opting to give Christmas a wide berth. The Dublin clubs in particular must like an extra round of derbies each season. The problem is Fran Gavin’s tacit acceptance that relegation is essential to the Premier Division. The top clubs need to live in fear of something or else they’ll get complacent as the season wore on. And what could be worse than relegation to that? It should also be noted that if relegation is such a core part of the Premier Division experience, why do everything they can to minimise the chance of it happening? This year the team that finish bottom will get a playoff against (barring some spectacular implosion on Limerick’s part) Longford or Waterford. So even the worst team in the Premier Division gets a do-over. Why not relegate them automatically, have the second-placed team automatically promoted to replace Monaghan and have the team that finish second-last play off against the team that finished third? I bet the clubs got to vote on this too. Is there any leadership in the FAI?

I can understand the frustration of the First Division clubs.

No, you can’t. You just can’t. If you did, you’d be doing more for their interests. Instead we have:

There generally isn’t a shortage of interest but it does tend to come down to a question of whether they can operate at the level that we require.

We’ll just have to wait and see what comes in by the deadline. Ideally we would like to increase the number, though, and what has definitely come across in the meetings with the clubs is the clubs’ frustration with having an uneven number and everything that goes with that

Translation: you’re going to do NOTHING. Do you have a minimum number of clubs below which the First Division can not fall? What are you going to do to ensure there are more than seven teams in the First Division? What is the plan if there are no expressions of interest? “Wait and see what comes in by the deadline”? Can you not see how wrong that is? How many question marks can it be possible to generate from such a short statement? And there’s a sting in the tail especially for supporters of the Blues:

Waterford has a great history and we’re here to help the club but we have to look at the league as a whole.

Well, isn’t that sweet. To paraphrase the sage Meat Loaf, you’ll do anything for us but you won’t do that. If the FAI are ‘here to help’, it would be useful if we could have some evidence of it. Answering some of the questions above would suggest you are indeed here to help, but in the absence of any plan then one must assume you’re content to let the First Division clubs, whether they have a great history or not, wither on the vine.

I felt sympathy for Fran Gavin when Monaghan United so abruptly left the League back in June. He was dealt a crappy hand and played it as well as could have been expected. Yet three months later he’s still behaving as if he can’t do anything about the direction of the League of which he’s meant to be the Director. The only direction the First Division seems to be heading at the moment is the same way as Thelma & Louise.