The launch of the 2015 SSE Airtricity League took place in the Aviva Stadium on the 27th February. The Football Association of Ireland are really looking to promote the League of Ireland this year and kick on after an exciting finale to last year’s league caught the attention of many Irish people who may not have had a previous interest in the Airtricity League. The Circular went along to the launch to find out more ahead of the start of the season.
Managers and team captains from all 20 clubs in the Irish Premier Division and First Division were in attendance. The President’s Cup, a match between the Premier Division champions and the FAI Cup victors, takes place on the 28th February. The 2nd edition of the cup will be contested between Dundalk FC and St. Patrick’s Athletic, and is a prequel to the league season which kicks off on the 6th March.
Speaking to the press, Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny reflected on the “special atmosphere” present on the final day of the league season when his side clinched the title after a 2-0 victory over Cork City at Oriel Park and how the League of Ireland must “strive for this passion” in the coming season. Kenny also felt that the teams who have been promoted (Longford Town, Galway United) are much stronger than those who fell to the first division (Athlone Town, UCD), creating a “more competitive league with no formalities – teams will have to earn their three points every week.”
St. Pats’ manager Liam Buckley was happy with how his side’s pre-season has gone as well as their dealings in the transfer market, despite losing Keith Fahey to Shamrock Rovers. He described the President’s Cup as “competitive” and will be naming a strong side to face Dundalk. Both managers are aware the League of Ireland needs to draw more supporters and that several improvements could be made to improve the division. The launch of the league is just the start of the FAI’s campaign to promote Irish football so that it can prosper for years to come.
Also speaking at the launch was FAI Director of Competitions Fran Gavin. Mr Gavin stated the need for Irish football to “continue to keep a sharp focus to move to the next level”. He cited club and community engagement as a key attribute of successful Irish clubs, as well as the need for these clubs to “operate in a sustainable manner”. In terms of nurturing talent in the domestic game, the FAI U19 League is now in its fourth season, having seen the likes of Brian Lenihan pass through its ranks. Mr Gavin announced today that a national U17 league will begin this August to complement the U19 league and continue a tradition of bringing through young Irish talent at the top level.
A senior member of the FAI management team, Mr Gavin praised SSE Airtricity who have renewed their sponsorship deal with the League of Ireland for another two seasons. He also revealed that FAI Chief Executive John Delaney has been involved with a discussion for a new sponsor for the league and that any revenue from this would go towards both prize money and community projects. This would be a huge boost for the league’s clubs and would help promote it even further, along with the backing of Airtricity and the newly-sponsored Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup.
Mr Gavin also announced that the FAI is to undertake a consultation process for the League of Ireland, which will involve all stakeholders in the domestic game, the clubs, the media, the supporters and the general public. “There are two objectives: to get views on how the clubs and the league currently operates and also to get opinions on how the clubs and the league can move forward . . . This league has a big heritage and we need to work hard and work together if we are to make it strong for the future” said Mr Gavin.
As someone who has an admittedly limited knowledge of domestic football, attending the launch of the new season and hearing the pride and passion espoused by those connected with the game had a big impact. It is clear to see the FAI has excellent intentions of expanding the League of Ireland’s fanbase and reach in Ireland and beyond. While English football will always be the calling ground of the supremely talented footballer, if Irish football can continue to produce players in the mould of Seamus Coleman while keeping the long-term standard of football played here at a relatively high level then that would be a job well done.