League of Ireland fans may remember the entry of Shamrock Rovers ‘B’ into the eight-team First Division for the 2014 campaign. Their presence was very welcome – both Mervue United and Salthill Devon had withdrawn after the 2013 season, subsumed into the new Galway side. Without the emergence of Rovers B, the 2014 First Division might have been in real trouble.
For the record, Rovers B finished sixth of the eight sides. They then promptly withdrew from the league, making way for Cabinteely FC in 2015. Now there is talk of Rovers B returning to the First Division for 2020. Bring it on, I say. It didn’t quite work out before, but that was then and this is now, as ABC would say.
How can I be so sure it would be a success this time out? Well, the whole point of putting a ‘B’ team into the main pyramid is to give players on the fringes of the squad some first-team experience. That may not be possible in the Premier Division, as the gulf between having come through the youth structure and stepping up to the first team is too big usually. Back in 2014 the academy structures were in their infancy, but in 2019 they have grown to include the suite of U13-U15-U17-U19 tiers of progression.
On the continent [Spain and Germany are two good examples] it is common for B teams of the top sides to play a couple of levels further down the pyramid. A couple of stipulations apply – the B team can never be promoted to a level equal to the first team, for example. The idea was even mooted for England, but was fought off by lower-league clubs.
In a country like Ireland we need to strengthen the lower levels of our pyramid. In my opinion bringing in the B teams of the likes of Rovers, Bohemians, Dundalk and Cork would be an ideal tool to achieve this. I wrote in my previous column about my support for a three-tier all-Ireland league that would see the leagues north and south combine. Add in the reserve sides of the likes of Linfield and Glentoranand the lower tiers of this proposed structure would be further strengthened.
If you can’t enter your B team into the pyramid and you are a big club then you have to loan out players. Why should big clubs have to do this? The players would much rather wear their own clubs colours in a lower division than playing in that division for someone else.