The start of the season is a time where everything is possible. Hopes are high and memories of past disappointment filed away. This weekend the SSE Airtricity League gets underway with more than a hint of a spring in its step.
It is the tenth year under the banner of SSE Airtricity and discussions are already well underway about a renewal of that deal which also includes being the official Energy Partner of the FAI and the International squads.
Yesterday the players and officials of the clubs from both the SSE Airtricity Premier League and the First division mingled with media, John Delaney and Martin O’Neill to kick start the promotion of the games.
Tributes were paid to Liam Miller whose tragic passing at the weekend and burial in Cork on Monday had pushed back the launch by 24 hours.
There was excitement about how competitive the Leagues could be this year. New signings, players returning with English Premier League experience under their belt and a greater sense of place than has perhaps previously been the case with the continued development of the Development Leagues all fed into the feel-good factor around the Havelock Suite.
Larry Bass, the Chairman of Cabinteely FC was there, taking time out from the ‘day job’ of his Shinawil Company producing Dancing With the Stars on RTÉ.
Promotion of the League was to the fore yesterday. The League’s Marketing Executive John McGuinness spoke of last year having seen a 24 percent increase in attendance across the two divisions and elements that were being introduced this season to boost that further.
He made special mention of how clubs themselves, within their local communities are building ever stronger links and making themselves an important part of ever more fans lives. The #FootballLoveUs campaign from Shamrock Rovers and our favourite the #TerracesNotTV video from Bohemians were singled out.
There will be a new podcast this season, under the ‘ballsy’ banner of The Greatest League in the World and it was confirmed that there would be 27 live matches between RTÉ and eir Sport as well as 37 editions of the Soccer republic magazine show going out on RTÉ TV on Monday evenings.
Last season’s stars were Cork City who claimed the double by lifting the SSE Airtricity League title and the FAI Cup. Dundalk, who finished second in the league and were beaten on penalties in the FAI Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium, claimed the EA SPORTS Cup after they beat Shamrock Rovers in the final at Tallaght Stadium.
Next season will see the return of Waterford to the top flight after they lifted the SSE Airtricity League First Division title. The First Division is set to hot up this season with the return of the playoffs to add even more competition for promotion to the first tier.
It is also set to be another crucial year for underage development as the SSE Airtricity National U15 League goes into its first full season in 2018. Athlone Town won the 2017 title in the inaugural, shortened season, after a 2-1 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic in the final. Bohemians will be competing in the UEFA Youth League next season after they beat St. Patrick’s Athletic in the U19 Final and become the third Irish team to compete in Europe’s elite youth competition.
“It’s important the league continues to work towards youth development and that’s why we’ve announced the start of a Youth Development Fund,” said FAI Director of Competitions Fran Gavin.
“The fund will add €250,000 to the UEFA Solidarity Funding of €825,062, bringing the total funding for youth development to €1.15 million at a minimum and with the introduction of a National U13 League next season, the future is exciting.”
“We’re delighted to have the continued support of our key sponsors, SSE Airtricity, Irish Daily Mail and EA SPORTS. Clubs are beginning to utilise their strategic plans and we’re seeing more longer-term contracts across the league which is fantastic. Attendances continued to grow last season and we’re positive we will continue to get stronger in 2018.”
As Sport for Business continues the build-up to the League we will have an exclusive interview with SSE Airtricity Sponsorship Manager Leanne Sheill tomorrow, a roundup of the commercial partnerships in place across the Premier League teams on Friday and then a similar look at the First Division the following week as it prepares for its own kick off.
This weekend’s opening round of fixtures are as follows:
Image Credit: Sam Barnes, Sportsfile