League of Ireland

League of Ireland 2021/2022 Preview

With the League of Ireland due to commence on the week ending 19thMarch, excitement is building around the return of domestic football in Ireland.
Once again, SSE Airtricity is the major sponsor of the League, renewing its sponsorship deal for another 2 years. This deal is much smaller than those of other European countries with Airtricity’s backing usually worth around €340,000 per annum.
With prize-money also improved whereby the 2021 Airtricity League Premier Division winners will pocket €130,000, (a slight improvement, as €110,000 was the prize between 2010 – 2020), it is still somewhat far off the financial prize the winners of the Scottish Championship (the tier below the League Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, St. Johnstone etc ply their trade in) will pocket £562,000.

On top of the renewal of the Premier & First Division Men’s Leagues, SSE Airtricity are also the new title sponsor of the Women’s National League. Details of the sponsorship deal have not yet been made public and therefore it is not yet clear what impact Covid-19 may have had on the financial arrangement and on value of the Women’s National League.
Furthermore, the League announced that Bank of Ireland was coming on board as an Associate Sponsor for 3 years, covering the Men’s Divisions, the Women’s National League, the FAI Cups, and the launch of a “More Than A Club” programme across the domestic game. This can only be seen as a positive piece of news in the wake of the horrendous publicity of recent years at Association level.
As Associate Sponsors, Bank of Ireland will look to plan a range of initiatives with the FAI for the new “More Than A Club” concept as they work with the League of Ireland’s Community Development Manager Derek O’Neill. Clubs across Ireland will engage with the “More Than A Club” initiative to devise and deliver important social programmes, particularly within disadvantaged communities.
With the sponsorship now secured for 2021, all focus is now on the footballing side of the League.
With the traditional season opener showpiece, the President’s Cup due to be played on the 12th March between 2020 League Champions Shamrock Rovers v 2020 FAI Cup Winners, Dundalk FC in Tallaght, excitement is building. With both clubs undergoing playing personnel changes (Rovers losing Byrne and McEneff in midfield, Dundalk signing a lot of relatively unknown players), the return of domestic football is much anticipated.

Clubs such as Bohemians, St. Patricks Athletic and Derry City have invested wisely and it will be interesting to see how “lesser lights” such as the promoted duo of Longford Town and Drogheda United get on back in the top tier.
Unfortunately, there will still be no fans allowed in due to the Covid-19 restrictions. In recent days, the FAI have confirmed the return of the WATCHLOI streaming service for the 2021 season while RTE will continue to show games on Friday nights, kicking off with the Shamrock Rovers-St Patrick's Athletic derby on the opening night of the season.
There's no confirmation of what will happen to top fight games after the mid-season break and it's also unclear if fans face a price rise on the fee for last season. The association have yet to confirm the cost for the new plan, which will only run "up until the mid-season break in June", though the FAI have promised that "RTÈ Sport will cover all production costs for WATCHLOI with all profits from the platform set to go straight to the Premier Division clubs".
Games in the First Division and in the Women's National League (WNL) will also be shown for free on a new service, loitv.ie all matches in the First Division and in the Women's National League broadcast online with the Pixellot technology.

With pre-season beginning and clubs finalising transfers, the expectations are high for all clubs going into the new season. One might wonder if Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers will dominate all silverware as we enter the new League under Covid-19 restrictions once again or could a new team challenge arise, (most probably from Bohemians) for the title. One might also question if Irish clubs will succeed in Europe or will the gap in footballing standards between Ireland and the rest of Europe be too large to bridge?
We can’t wait until the action kicks off to see!


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