Talk of a third tier for the League of Ireland resurfaced this summer. Apparently it is being considered afresh by the powers that be. Its arrival isn’t imminent or even a certainty, but it’s something I’d be in favour of personally if it did happen.
We’ve had a third tier before, in various guises. There was the A Championship, and before that the League of Ireland B Division which featured the reserve sides of League of Ireland teams as well as the first teams of non-League of Ireland teams.
The current League of Ireland clubs, while welcoming the expansion of the underage set-up to include U13 [from next year], U15, U17 and U19, would have to agree that some players can fall off the radar after this suite of progression because the step up to first team football is too big a leap for them. There’s no safety net in place at present. A third tier in the League of Ireland would mean more clubs lower down that these players could end up at and still play at a national level while they mature either physically or in their football or both.
You can have a third tier that includes the reserve sides of first and second tier League of Ireland clubs or one that doesn’t. I’d be in favour of one that doesn’t. I hate the way they allow the reserve sides of clubs into the lower leagues in Germany and other countries. I think it devalues those leagues. The English way is better. Keep reserve sides separate, maybe in a dedicated U23 league, for clubs that want to have reserve sides [it should be optional].
No, if I was in charge of designing a new third tier I’d make it a full-on 10-team league for first-team sides only. I’d rebrand the current First Division as the SSE Airtricity Championship and call the new division the SSE Airtricity First Division [in line with the branding in England and Scotland]. Initially the new division would be made of 10 teams selected from a list of applicants, presumably teams from the provincial senior leagues [I wouldn’t bar Northern Ireland sides from applying, they’d be just as welcome as Derry City are]. As time went on relegation and promotion would shuffle in already established League of Ireland names.
Funding and marketing would be big concerns, obviously, as would the viability of multiple teams from the same area [I remember what happened with Salthill Devon and Mervue United]. But if we get the funding and marketing right, then why not?