The FAI have announced that League of Ireland is set to return on 31st July after a vote by clubs this week.
The 2020 League of Ireland season had been suspended after just five games as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, with Shamrock Rovers sitting top having won all their games to date, three points ahead of last year’s winners Dundalk.
Sligo Rovers are bottom of the table, having failed to pick up any points in their first five games, while Cabinteely are the current leaders of the First Division.
All teams will play 18 games, including those which have already taken place, a condensed version of the 36 game season in the Premier Division, with 27 games taking place in the First Division.
Promotion and relegation are still in place, including play offs, after clubs chose this out of the four options presented to them from the National League Executive Committee, as the best format to continue the season.
There will be automatic promotion and relegation whilst the ninth placed team in the Premier Division will face the winner of the playoffs (comprised of the second, third fourth and fifth placed teams) from the First Division, the first time this has been introduced, after it was proposed ahead of the start of the current campaign.
The sticking point surrounding the restart of the league was largely the relegation proposition, with many clubs unhappy at the prospect of two teams being relegated in a reduced 18 game season.
The Premier Clubs Alliance yesterday wrote to the FAI on behalf of the majority of the clubs in the Premier Division to express their dismay at the promotion and relegation scenario in the current option taken to restart the season.
They believe the National League Executive Committee, who made the controversial call, was ill advised and called for an immediate investigation into their decision from the FAI.
Waterford and Sligo, were two of the clubs to publicly criticise the proposal, with Sligo releasing a statement which reads:
“This format was of particular disappointment to the club and is something we sternly object to. We believe it is grossly unfair, unjust and do not see the matter as concluded.”
Fixtures for the return are still to be announced and it is not yet clear whether spectators will be allowed in the stadium.
The government have said that outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people will be permitted in the Republic of Ireland from the 20th July, which could open the door to a limited number of fans being allowed to attend games.
Many clubs have been training since the start of June, in staggered groups. In accordance with FAI guidelines, they can schedule friendly matches from the 11th July, 10 days before the proposed restart.
In a statement, FAI Interim Deputy CEO Niall Quinn said:
“It’s good that we can now start to look towards a return date and also that we have clarity on what the fixture list will look like and the plan for the rest of the season.”
The FAI also declared that they are committed to playing out the 2020 FAI Cup, albeit in a slightly different format.
“What we’ve discussed at this point is that the eight quarter-finalists will complete the FAI Cup after the SSE Airtricity League season has ended, and they will be rewarded for getting to that point, to help them financially for the remaining Cup matches and the longer season.”