Kevin Galvin discusses the controversial decision to allow Shamrock Rovers to enter a reserve team in the League of Ireland First Division.
Shamrock Rovers; the most successful club in Irish football and the club which Irish domestic football supposedly cannot live without. They’re a club which regularly pulls in the highest gates across the grounds and were the first ever Irish club to reach the group stages of a European Cup competition.
Shamrock Rovers; A club which was demoted from the League of Ireland Premier Division for financial irregularities, which won the First Division only seven years ago, whose lowest attendance was a mere eight hundred people, and a club which finished outside the top four of the Premier Division last season.
Like them or loathe them, the Tallaght outfit are always in the thick of things when it comes to what’s happening in the league. Whether it be new signings (9 so far in the off-season), departures (17 leaving the Hoops in 2013), or managers (9 in as many years since Liam Buckley left in 2004), the Hoops have seen plenty of controversy in their time.
The latest one sees an inclusion of a Shamrock Rovers ‘B’ team into next year’s League of Ireland First Division. This team would be composed of three outfield players and one goalkeeper from the senior squad, and then the rest being other players presumably graduating from the U19 side, while the club will continue to field a team in the U19 Elite Division.
The main question remains as to why a club which already has a team in the Premier Division would be allowed field a team in the First instead of an upcoming club. In the press release the FAI said they considered several applications but chose to go ahead with this one, though they weren’t so keen to release the names of the clubs which did apply.
So instead of trying to grow and spread the game across the country (which presumably is one of the main reasons of having a domestic league), the FAI have taken a stance towards centralising the domestic game. There are already eight teams within an hour’s drive of the nation’s capital, with Shelbourne already competing in the First Division next year. Shamrock Rovers fans will be able to enjoy two sets of League of Ireland games every weekend, while those in the likes of Kerry, Clare, Monaghan, Kilkenny and Kildare will be once again without any LOI football.
Also mentioned in the press release was examples in other European countries, and many in favour of the move cited the examples of Real Madrid’s and Barcelona’s B teams. The two situations simply cannot be compared. In the first case both Barcelona ‘B’ and Real Madrid Castilla have their roots in separate clubs which acted as feeder teams to the ‘El Clásico’ outfits. Castilla were originally AD Plus Ultra, and Barcelona ‘B’ España Industrial, both competing in the local regional leagues, several tiers below where they are currently positioned.
Countries like Spain, Italy and Germany can afford to have their sides field a reserve team due to the vast footballing system they have, which would accommodate feeder teams being put in the regional leagues without much disruption to the professional leagues. Even in Ireland UCD have a team playing in the Leinster Senior League, which bridges the gap nicely between youth and senior League of Ireland football.
However, with only a two league system it is ludicrous that Shamrock Rovers should have a B team automatically parachuted into the second tier of Irish football. Shelbourne, who drew their first match and lost out narrowly in the other two matches to the senior team, will now have the ignominy of facing the reserve team next season while clubs like Tralee and Monaghan who have been pushing to get back into the league watch on from the side-lines, continuing to dominate local leagues.
As a matter of fact, the idea of fielding a B side originally came from the club itself, not the FAI, and it’s easy to see why the Hoops would be so keen on the idea. Fielding a B side in the League of Ireland gives ‘Ireland’s most successful club’ a huge advantage. Other clubs are forced to get rid of most of their U19 talent after they go over the age limit, as the FAI scrapped a successful U21 league a few years ago. The talent that does make it through have usually only a year to assert their dominance on the first team, in a physical league against men twice the size and strength of a growing teenager.
Clubs all around the country struggle with this massive gap between U19 and senior League of Ireland football, and many have been forced to discard talent, which given a few years to bulk and wise up, would have flourished at Senior level. However for Shamrock Rovers, this won’t be a problem. U19 players now have the opportunity to play at a slightly less competitive level than Premier, and then when the times comes they can slot into a Senior team which already has one of, if not the biggest budget in the country to work with. While the club can get rid of whoever doesn’t make the grade, happy in the knowledge that the player has been given sufficient time to prove himself, a win-win situation.
Finally, I leave you to ponder about what kind of identity will this supposed ‘B’ team have? It’s difficult to imagine too many people being able to attend two League of Ireland games in a weekend? How likely is it that Shamrock Rovers fans will go to the reserve team’s matches if they’ve had a six hour round trip to Cork to see their side lose? Moreover, how likely is it that fans will travel to the likes of Finn Harps, Galway, Waterford and Cobh, just to see a B team when the senior side have played the previous night?
These are all concerns which the FAI have supposedly thought over, and still decided to bypass applications from independent clubs in favour of a reserve side competing in the second tier of Irish football. Given Shamrock Rovers’ recent financially perilous position, and the direction the League of Ireland has been going in recent years, it’s hard to believe that this will turn out to be a positive decision; one which focuses on centralisation in an already centralised system, and only serves to widen the schism between League of Ireland and local football.
Pundit Arena, Kevin Galvin.
Featured Image by By William Murphy from Dublin, Ireland (Tallaght Stadium Uploaded by Kafuffle) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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