The Changes that are to be introduced to the domestic soccer league for the 2017 season could put the very future of the clubs which are operating in the first Division at risk. That was the general feeling that emerged from a recent meeting of the clubs that are competing in the first Division for the season ahead.
All of the teams that will play outside the top flight, including the Shannonside teams of Longford Town and Athlone Town are concerned that the new changes could put added pressure on them entering into the new season and even threaten their very existence.
The Premier Division of the league of Ireland is to be reduced from twelve clubs to ten at the end of the 2017 season. That means the 2018 season will see ten clubs play in both the Premier and first divisions.
Under the new structure only one team is scheduled to be promoted from the First Division next season instead of one side automatically going up and the possibility of a second joining them through the play off route. However under the new system there will be no play-off for teams in second and third place, with only the first Division champions earning automatic promotion.
According to recent media reports it’s understood that all eight teams that are due to compete in the first division for 2017 met in Wexford last weekend, with a view to making the second-tier more competitive.
Longford Town will be looking to return to the Premier Division after being relegated last season, however they will face stiff competition to secure an immediate return to the top flight with Waterford United expected to be very strong especially now that Pat Fenlon is working as the Club’s general manager.
One proposal that was raised at last weekend’s meeting was the idea that no team would gain automatic promotion. Instead at the end of the season, the second placed team would play the third, with the winners of that tie facing the table-toppers for the right to secure promotion to the Premier division.
While the format has to be agreed on, it will need broad support from First Division clubs. Premier Division teams are unlikely to vote against the format, as long as their spots are not altered.
The First Division season will get underway on February 24th Longford will play Shelbourne in their first encounter in Tolka Park.