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01st Jun 2024

Calls for League of Ireland to break away from “amateur” FAI

Ronan Calvert

Caulfield FAI

Galway United boss John Caulfield has called for change.

Friday night in Inchicore saw Stephen Kenny bag the first win of his renewed rivalry with John Caulfield.

This time it was St Patrick’s Athletic Vs Galway United, rather than Dundalk Vs Cork City as it was before Kenny took the Ireland job in 2018.

That was more than five years ago. A time when Dundalk’s European exploits and their captivating rivalry with a Sean Maguire-inspired City generated the kind of interest not seen in the league for many years.

Fast forward to today and it’s even better. In the intervening time, four-in-a-row-winning Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley disrupted the status quo at the top, Irish legend Damien Duff took over at Shelbourne and, for a variety of such reasons, crowds started to hit record-breaking highs.

The sold-out 2023 FAI Cup Final is perhaps the most symbolic indicator of the domestic game’s potential:

Is the League of Ireland being held back?

This all creates a new question: whether this unprecedented positive momentum can be harnessed effectively to progress the fabric of Irish football.

For all the positive organic work, Irish football is on track to become a minnow of the European game based on a range of statistics from ‘number of full-time academy staff’ to ‘training hours of academy players’.

These issues can only really be solved with serious investment. Trojan volunteer work helps, but it can never help enough to bridge the gap between Ireland and its well-funded European counterparts.


Speaking on the issue after his side’s 2-1 defeat to Pat’s, Galway United manager John Caulfield told’s Dan McDonnell that he thinks the League of Ireland would be better served as an independent entity.

“Unfortunately the FAI image isn’t good, it’s tainted, and it hasn’t helped the League of Ireland in terms of attracting money,” he said.

“What we need probably is for the League of Ireland to go out on our own and show it’s a professional league.

“People are employed and we need government money channelled directly into the League of Ireland, that’s what I feel about it because I think there’s real opportunities here for it.”

“People go back and they blame the whole John Delaney thing,” elaborated Caulfield, “but I think the whole makeup and structure of the FAI is very fractured, there’s never been a willingness to promote League of Ireland football.”

“There’s so many good business people after getting involved with clubs, there’s a lot more money coming into the league and it’s brilliant.

“It’s brilliant that all the teams are full-time in Premier (except Drogheda United) but certainly as a league, we have to come together and break away.”

Caulfield’s appetite for a League of Ireland breakaway is motivated by the rising popularity of the League, something that’s helped by having big-name managers like Duff and Kenny in the mix.

“It’s absolutely brilliant for our league, it’s whether we can capitalise in terms of driving the league forward, getting government money which we need to get into our league and get TV, that’s all we’re lacking, getting proper coverage for our games.

“The media coverage is fantastic, LOI TV has been very good but you need games (on TV) every week and the sooner we can get cracking, the better.”

League of Ireland breakaway

McDonnell reported back in April that League of Ireland clubs met with the European Clubs Association (ECA) to discuss a potential breakaway from Irish Football’s governing body; a topic being discussed more and more with every fresh FAI scandal.

There are currently no wheels in motion to make the notion a reality, but 2025 has been marked on calendars as a window of opportunity. That is when existing FAI commercial deals with the league expire and new negotiations will be required.

And while Galway United did not attend that ECA meeting, their manager’s stance on the issue could not be any clearer after last night’s comments:

“We are a professional league, we’re not social football, we’re not amateur, we’re professional.

“The FAI is made up of lots of schoolboy, amateur (affiliates) and it’s not disrespectful but they’ve no grá for our league.

“As a league we have to break away and come together and put pressure on the government to actually back this league, put money to it directly.

“I think they are hiding behind all the FAI controversies, they are hiding behind that, whereas we are a business, we employ people and we can employ a lot more people.”

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