Association football in the Republic of Ireland

Association football in the Republic of Ireland

Association football, more usually known as football or soccer, is the most popular participation sport in the Republic of Ireland.Cite web| url =| title =FAI and Umbro announce largest sponsorship deal in Irish sport | publisher =| accessdate = 2008-01-26] The national governing body for the sport is the Football Association of Ireland, who run the national football team and the League of Ireland, which is the top level of the sport in the country. The term "football" is used interchangeably in Ireland between Soccer/Association football and the country's national sport Gaelic football, which is the most popular spectator sport. [Cite web| url =| title =A History of Gaelic Football| publisher = Jack Mahon | accessdate = 2008-01-26]

In its earliest days, association football was largely confined to the city of Dublin and its surrounding county. [Cite web| url =| title =(Republic of) Ireland League Tables| publisher = | accessdate = 2008-01-26] Gradually it became more widespread throughout the country, to the point where in the modern day there are clubs in all of the counties of Ireland. Currently, average league attendances at matches in the League of Ireland is around 2,000. [Cite web| url =| title =Attendances - Eircom Premier League 2007| publisher = | accessdate = 2008-01-26] Many of the countries top players move to leagues outside of the country, particularly the FA Premier League, which is one of the reasons why significant numbers of locals follow clubs in that league. [Cite web| url =| title = United Irishmen: Manchester United's Irish Connection| publisher = Chris Moore | accessdate = 2008-01-26]

The sport is played at all levels in the country. A strong boost [Since the 1990 FIFA World Cup, which was Ireland's first appearance, they have featured higher up the FIFA World Rankings and the World Football Elo Ratings.] for the sport in the country was the national side's performance in the 1990 FIFA World Cup where they reached the quarter-finals, their best achievement to date. [Cite web| url =| title = World Cup 1990 - Match Schedule| publisher =| accessdate = 2008-01-26]


Although the sport was being played in Ireland in the 1860s, it was mainly based in Ulster and it was not until the 1880s that the game spread to other areas of the country. The Leinster Football Association was formed in 1892 as the game became more popular in the area. Clubs from outside the Belfast area thought that the IFA favoured Ulster based clubs and when the IFA reneged on a promise to play the IFA Cup final replay in Dublin and instead scheduled the match for Belfast a meeting of southern associations and clubs was arranged and on June 1 1921, the Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS) was formed in Molesworth Hall in Dublin. The Football League of Ireland was established in 1921, with eight teams taking part. St. James's Gate F.C. won the first title, and they were also winners of the first FAI Cup, then called the Free State Cup, in 1922. In 1923 the FAI was recognised by FIFA as the governing body of the Irish Free State [cite book | title=Football Asssociation of Ireland: 75 years | first=Peter | last=Byrne | date=1996 | location=Dublin | publisher=Sportsworld | id = ISBN 1-900110-06-7 | pages=22] and at the 1924 Olympics, the Irish Free State made their international debut. On May 28 at the Stade Olympique, they beat Bulgaria 1-0, with Paddy Duncan scoring the team's first ever goal. As a result of this they qualified for the quarter-finals. [ [ 1924 Olympic Games at Rsssf] ] [ [ History of Irish Football] ] On June 14 1924, the Irish Free State made their home debut against the United States, who had embarked on a brief European tour after competing in the same Olympics. Ed Brookes scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 home win at Dalymount Park. [ [ United States results at Rsssf] ] The Irish Free State did not play their next game until March 21 1926. This was an away game against Italy which they lost 3-0. In subsequent years the status of the Olympic Games football competition was downgraded and as a result this game is widely regarded as the Irish Free State's first official game.

The 1930s saw the erosion of Dublin's dominance in the league. During the 20s, Bohemians, St James's Gate, Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers had a monopoly over the domestic game, but Dundalk and Sligo Rovers both won championships while Cork F.C. and Waterford collected FAI Cups as football spread to the provinces. The Second World War curtailed international matches between 1939 and 1946, but league football went ahead with Cork United F.C. dominating, winning four titles between 1940 and 1945. On the international front, England won a match at Dalymount Park 1-0, but Ireland got their revenge three years later when they became the first 'foreign' side to defeat England on English soil. Ireland won the Goodison Park encounter 2-0.

In 1950, FIFA directed both the FAI and IFA to pick players only from within their own boundaries rather than picking players from all over the island. FIFA also ruled that the FAI's team would be known as the Republic of Ireland with the IFA's side being called Northern Ireland. Up to that point, both Associations referred to their teams as 'Ireland'. The Dublin based clubs reasserted their dominance with only Cork capable of challenging their dominance. 1958 saw a League of Ireland side enter European competition for the first time with Shamrock Rovers going out 9-2 on aggregate to Manchester United in the first round of the European Cup.

In the 1960s Waterford United became one of the league's most successful clubs as they won three titles during the decade, though Shamrock Rovers were the team of the 60s. The Hoops won six FAI Cups in a row during the 60s, a feat that has never been repeated. In 1969 the FAI decided to appoint a national team manager instead of a team of selectors. Mick Meagan became the first manager. They still failed to win any of their qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup. Ireland finished bottom of their qualification group for the 1972 European Championship, ending Meagan's tenure as manager. Liam Tuohy briefly replaced him. John Giles became the Republic of Ireland's first ever player-manager before the 1976 European Championship qualifiers, but the side again failed to qualify. During the qualifiers for the 1980 European Championship, the Republic of Ireland took on Northern Ireland in an historic first ever meeting between the two sides. A 0-0 draw at Dalymount Park was marred by rioting in Dublin on the day of the match. Domestically, no team really dominated as the popularity of the game began to diminish. The major achievement was Dundalk's progress to the last 16 of the European Cup in 1979 when they eventually went out to Glasgow Celtic.

The domestic game went from bad to worse during the 1980s with clubs all over the country struggling for finance. Shamrock Rovers were forced to sell their home, Glenmalure Park, while St Patrick's Athletic were forced to move out of Richmond Park towards the end of the decade. On the field, Shamrock Rovers were again the team to beat as they won a record four titles in a row, though provincial clubs Athlone, Dundalk and Derry City also claimed titles. The 1990s saw an improvement for the game domestically. Facilities at grounds throughout the country improved, and, the standard of football was also excellent. Shelbourne and St Patrick's Athletic dominated the decade, winning four league titles between them, with Shelbourne also winning three FAI Cups.

The national game received a huge boost when the Republic, under Jack Charlton, qualified for the 1988 European Championship—their first ever major finals—where they won their first game 1-0 against England. This was followed by qualification for the World Cup in 1990, 1994 (where they beat Italy) and 2002. However, the 2002 Roy Keane Saipan incident, when the team captain Roy Keane went home (or was sent home) before the start of the 2002 World Cup after a public quarrel with manager Mick McCarthy over the facilities and preparation for the tournament, had far-reaching effects on the sport in Ireland. The FAI commissioned a report from external consultants Genesis, into its World Cup preparations. The "Genesis Report" agreed with many of Keane's criticisms, finding that the FAI structure was not conducive to good planning and making a range of recommendations. Brendan Menton resigned as FAI General Secretary at this time, and the media linked the two events, though Menton denied this. A second Genesis report, called the "White Paper" or "Genesis II", in 2005 recommended a radical overhaul of the eircom League and led to the appointment of an assessment group. [ [ FAI press release] ] A joint implementation committee made major changes to the league, including merging the league with the FAI, changing the management structure and revamping the league structure. [ [ FAI / "eircom"League Implementation Committee, "Proposals on the strategic direction of the National League 2007 - 2012"] ]

Shelbourne dominated the game during the early years of the 21st century, but after winning the league in 2006 they were demoted to the First Division for financial irregularities. The inaugural FAI League of Ireland in 2007 was won by Drogheda United F.C.—their first ever league championship.

League system

The Football League of Ireland was established in 1921. The Premier Division was the only division up to 1985 when the First Division was also introduced. The Irish telecommunications company, Eircom, became the leagues official sponsor in 1999.Cite web| url =| title =FAI and Umbro announce largest sponsorship deal in Irish sport | publisher =| accessdate = 2008-01-26] The league has changed from a winter to summer season, also. The season now begins in March and ends in November. Another change undergone by the league is the introduction of professionalism into some clubs. Before this all clubs were semi-professional. These changes were mainly made in order for better performances in Europe by the clubs. In 2006 the FAI completed a merge with the League of Ireland and so the league was renamed the FAI League of Ireland. This merge involved changes to league format which were to be gradually introduced over the next three years. The changes includes an introduction of an 'A' League Championship which will provide non-league and amateur clubs a chance to win promotion to the First Division which, up to this stage, had no clubs actually relegated. Clubs who finished in last place had to re-apply for league membership, however. The league has received more media coverage in recent years. At the moment four channels (RTÉ, TV3, TG4 and Setanta) show live matches and/or highlights of Premier Division games. Attendances have also rose in the last few years. Attendances did reach their peak in the 1970s. They did rapidly drop, however, but have shown increases since the turn of the century. All of this has provided clubs with more finances as prize money is increasing. There is a total prize fund in the league of €450,000 starting from this season.

FAI Premier Division

In 2007 the FAI Premier Division replaced the Football League of Ireland Premier Division. The latter was founded in 1921. The Premier Division currently contains 12 clubs. The 12 clubs play each other three times which gives a total of 33 matches each. The bottom placed club will be relegated to the First Division and the team who finishes in 11th position will enter a promotion/relegation playoff with a First Division qualifier. This format is likely to change, though, as the FAI want to reduce the number of clubs in the Premier Division to 10 teams by the year 2009.

FAI First Division

The Football League of Ireland First Division was introduced in 1986. Like the Premier Division, it was replaced in 2007 by the FAI First Division due to the merge between the League of Ireland and the FAI. At the moment there are 10 clubs in the First Division with teams playing each other four times. The champions win automatic promotion with the second and third placed clubs competing in a playoff against each other. The winner of this qualifies for the promotion/relegation playoff against the 11th placed club in the Premier Division. There is no official relegation from the First Division although this will change in future years with the introduction of the 'A' League Championship.

FAI A League Championship

The A League was introduced in the 2008 season as a new third tier, below the existing Premier and First divisions. The division is split into 2 separate groups competing independantly of each other.

Provincial leagues

Each province in the country (Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht) run a league. These leagues are amateur leagues, though, and clubs cannot be promoted to the FAI National League. Some of the top clubs in these leagues do compete in the FAI Cup, however. These leagues do not gain much media coverage certainly on a national level.

Local amateur soccer

Many counties in the country run a local league. These leagues do not provide promotion to provincial leagues but are still run. An example of one such league is the North Tipperary District Soccer League which is run in North Tipperary. This particular league contains four divisions and also a youth division. [Cite web| url =| title =League Tables| publisher = | accessdate = 2008-01-26]

Cup competitions

The FAI Cup is the national cup competition of the country. It was first run in 1922. The tournament has a straight knockout format with non-league and junior sides competing in the first round before the league clubs join in the second round.

The Football League of Ireland Cup is the other main cup in the country. It was first held in 1974. This tournament's format has changed over the years. Previously it had group stages in the opening round but it now is straight knockout but clubs are divided into regional groups in the opening rounds. All 22 league clubs take part with the addition of 2 non-league clubs in order to bring the number up to 24.

League of Ireland clubs also compete in the Setanta Cup. This competition is played between clubs from both the FAI League of Ireland and the Irish League in Northern Ireland. Four clubs from both sides of the border take part. League of Ireland clubs can qualify by finishing in the top two places in the Premier Division, winning the FAI Cup or winning a playoff held between the League Cup winners and First Division champions. The competition, itself, is has two groups of four with the top two progressing through to the semi-final stage. This tournament was first played in 2005.

Munster also run a cup for all clubs located in Munster including league clubs.

Each of the provincial and local amateur leagues also run cup competitions for their league clubs.

Defunct cup competitions include:
* Texaco Cup
* Blaxnit Cup
* Dublin City Cup
* Dublin and Belfast Intercity Cup
* FAI Super Cup
* League of Ireland Shield
* Leinster Senior Cup
* Top Four Cup

Qualification for European competitions

Republic of Ireland national team

The Republic of Ireland's first competitive international finished in a 1-0 victory against Bulgaria on 28 May 1924 in the Olympics. They have never won any major international competitions and had never qualified for a major tournament until 1988. Since then they have enjoyed relative success qualifying for three of the last five World Cups. The furthest they reached was the quarter-final in 1990.

Women's game

Women's soccer is not very widespread in the Republic of Ireland. There is currently no national league in place, although, there are regional leagues including the Dublin Women's League. There is a national team also which compete on an international basis. They are currently attempting to qualify for the European Championships in Finland in 2009.

tadiums used for football in the Republic of Ireland

References and notes

External links

* [ FAI History]
* [ Eircom league History]

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