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League of Ireland

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League of Ireland

League of Ireland
Country  Ireland
Other club(s) from Northern Ireland
Confederation UEFA (Europe)
Founded 1921
Number of teams 20
Domestic cup(s) FAI Cup
League cup(s) League of Ireland Cup
International cup(s) UEFA Champions League
UEFA Europa League
Current champions Dundalk
Most championships Shamrock Rovers (17)
TV partners RTÉ 2
Setanta Sports
2015 League of Ireland

The League of Ireland (Irish: Sraith na hÉireann) is the national association football league of the Republic of Ireland.

Founded in 1921, as a league of eight clubs, it has expanded over time into a two-tiered league of 20 clubs. There are currently two divisions: the Premier Division and the First Division. The league was governed by its members, the clubs, from its foundation until 2006, when it entered into a five-year merger with the Football Association of Ireland. In 2010, its members voted to renew the merger once the current agreement expires.[1] The league has suffered severe financial problems in recent years due to mismanagement and overspending by its clubs.[2] In 2007, it became the first major league in Europe to introduce a salary cap.[1]

The league includes one club from Northern Ireland, Derry City. Derry City formerly played in the Irish Football League, but voluntarily left the Northern Irish league during the 1972–73 season as a result of safety and security concerns. Derry City joined the League of Ireland in 1985, with special dispensation from the Irish Football Association (IFA) and UEFA. They won promotion to the Premier Division in 1987.

The League of Ireland is currently ranked 40th of the 54 national leagues under UEFA jurisdiction. The league's most successful club is Shamrock Rovers, with 17 League of Ireland titles won. They are one of four clubs in Ireland, with Dundalk FC, Bohemians and Shelbourne, to sport a golden star above their badge in recognition of winning ten titles. Bohemians are the only club with a non-broken membership of the league since its inception. St. Patrick's Athletic and Bohemians are the only clubs that have never been relegated from the League of Ireland Premier Division. The League of Ireland is classed as a summer league as its seasons begin in March and finish in November. The league is currently sponsored by SSE Airtricity and therefore officially known as the SSE Airtricity League.[3]


The Football League of Ireland was established in 1921 (it would exist under the moniker of the 'Free State League' between 1922 and 1937) and initially consisted of eight teams from Dublin. St James's Gate were the inaugural winners of the league and the FAI Cup. The league expanded numerically and geographically during its first decade of existence but was dominated by Dublin's three main clubs, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Shelbourne. Dundalk became the first club from outside of the capital to win the league, in 1932–33. The 1930s saw another championship victory for a provincial side, with Sligo Rovers claiming their first league title in 1936–37, while Shamrock Rovers won a further three during the decade. The League of Ireland was dominated by Cork United during the 1940s. The club won five league titles between 1941 and 1946, including three in succession, but resigned from the league in 1948. The following decade was marked by the emergence of St Patrick's Athletic and the reemergence of Shamrock Rovers. The former succeeded in winning the title at the first attempt, in 1951–52, and claimed a further two in the middle of the decade. The Coad's Colts earned Shamrock Rovers the league title for the first time in fifteen years, in 1953–54, and won two more during the latter half of the decade.

Drumcondra and Dundalk claimed two League of Ireland titles each during the 1960s but Waterford secured their status as the team of the decade with four league titles, including three in succession between 1967 and 1970. Six clubs won the League of Ireland title during the 1970s with Waterford, Bohemians and Dundalk winning two titles each. Athlone Town won their two league titles at the start of the 1980s but the decade was marked by the four successive league titles won by Shamrock Rovers' Four in a row side. That team broke up following the sale of Glenmalure Park in 1987 and Dundalk and Derry City stepped in to claim the remaining titles of the decade with Derry winning the Treble in 1989, four years after entering the League of Ireland. The 1990s saw the re-emergence of St Patrick's Athletic, as the club secured 4 league championships during the decade, following years of obscurity. The turn of the millennium was marked by the first of five titles in seven years for Shelbourne, a first title in 23 years for Bohemians and the league's switch to a Summer Soccer (March–November) schedule.[4] Cork City denied Shels' a third league title in a row when they claimed their 2nd championship in 2005, defeating fellow challengers Derry City in a last game decider at Turners Cross. The 2nd half of the decade saw the beginning of the 5 year merger with the FAI and the financial collapse of a number of league winning clubs, due to overspending and mismanagement. Shelbourne were demoted to the First Division after their title win in 2006,[5][6] while Drogheda went into examinership in 2008,[7] having won the League of Ireland the previous year.[8] Cork City also entered into examinership in the same year,[9] and went out of existence in 2010.[10] Derry City were thrown out of the League of Ireland at the end of the 2009 season for producing false documents regarding player contracts and thus breaking the League's participation agreement.[11] Bohemians entered a period of severe financial trouble in 2010 after a decade of accumulating massive debts in the payment of full-time players and staff.[12]


Club Winners Runners-up Championship seasons
Shamrock Rovers
1922–23, 1924–25, 1926–27, 1931–32, 1937–38, 1938–39, 1953–54, 1956–57, 1958–59, 1963–64, 1983–84, 1984–85, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1993–94, 2010, 2011
1925–26, 1928–29, 1930–31, 1943–44, 1946–47, 1952–53, 1961–62, 1991–92, 1999–2000, 2001–02, 2003, 2004, 2006
1923–24, 1927–28, 1929–30, 1933–34, 1935–36, 1974–75, 1977–78, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2008, 2009
1932–33, 1962–63, 1966–67, 1975–76, 1978–79, 1981–82, 1987–88, 1990–91, 1994–95, 2014
St Patrick's Athletic
1951–52, 1954–55, 1955–56, 1989–90, 1995–96, 1997–98, 1998–99, 2013
1965–66, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1969–70, 1971–72, 1972–73
1947–48, 1948–49, 1957–58, 1960–61, 1964–65
Cork United
1940–41, 1941–42, 1942–43, 1944–45, 1945–46
Sligo Rovers
1936–37, 1976–77, 2012
Cork City
1992–93, 2005
Derry City
1988–89, 1996–97
1959–60, 1979–80
Athlone Town
1980–81, 1982–83
St James's Gate
1921–22, 1939–40
Cork Athletic
1949–50, 1950–51
Drogheda United
Cork Celtic
Cork Hibernians


The format of the league changed regularly during the first three decades of its existence. The number of teams competing in it varied from eight to twelve, although a double round robin system remained throughout. The 1950s marked the beginning of a period of consistency, as the league persisted with a 12 team format from 1951–52 to 1961–62. Qualification positions for European competitions were introduced during the period. The 12 teamed/2 rounded format was used for most of the 1960s, until 1969–70, when the league was expanded to 14 clubs. This format remained until 1977–78, when an additional 2 clubs were elected to the league. The format returned in 1982–83, following 5 years of the 16 team league, but the 1980s were marked by the introduction of a second tier to the league. The League of Ireland First Division was founded in 1985, containing 10 of the 22 clubs competing in the league. A system of promotion and relegation was introduced in the league, replacing the previous method of election.

A third round of fixtures was added to both divisions for the 1987–88 season, replacing the double round robin system. The points system of the league was changed in 1993–94, with 3 points awarded for a win. The previous method of 2 points for a win had existed since the league's inception, excluding two seasons of experimental points systems in the early 1980s. The format remained until 2002–03, when the season was deliberately shortened to ease the transition to "Summer Soccer". The Premier Division was cut to 10 teams while the First Division played only 2 rounds of fixtures. The first season of summer soccer saw the introduction of a fourth round of fixtures to the 10 team Premier Division, while the 12 teams in the First Division played each other on 3 occasions. The system was unpopular amongst the majority of managers, players and club officials within the league, according to a League of Ireland review conducted in 2009.[13] The format changed again in 2012 with 12 teams in the Premier Division playing each other 3 times.[14]

Promotion and relegation

Currently, the team that finishes bottom of the Premier Division is automatically relegated to the First Division. Likewise, the team that finishes top of the First Division is automatically promoted to the Premier Division. The teams placed 11th in the Premier Division faces the 2nd place team in Division 1. The winner of this match takes their place in the Premier Division the next year. The last placed team in the First Division can potentially play a promotion/relegation play-off against an A Championship side, depending on the final placings in that league.

European qualification

The top team in the Premier Division qualifies for the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round. The second-placed and third placed-teams and winners of the FAI Cup qualify for the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round. They must go through four two-legged knockout ties respectively in order to enter the second round group phase of that competition. If it were to happen that a cup winner has already qualified for the UEFA Europa League via the league, the cup-win qualification will take prominence and the league-place qualification will be transferred to the next team who finished below them in the league. However, if the case is that the cup-winner has already won the league, that team will take a place in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds, by way of its league win, and the losing team in the FAI Cup final will take the UEFA Europa League spot on offer from that competition. In 2011 Shamrock Rovers became the first team in Irish footballing history to reach the group stages of the Europa League.

UEFA coefficient and ranking

The League of Ireland's UEFA coefficient accumulates to a total value of 5.125 as of September 2013. Between 1998 and 2010, the league's place on the coefficient table rose 15 places, the biggest climb of any league in Europe. Its position of 29th in 2010 was also its highest since 1986. In 1985, its highest position in history was 24th. Since June 2010, the league's ranking has declined and it stood at 43rd place at the end of the 2013/2014 season,[15] a drop of 14 places since 2010 and the league's worst ranking since 1998.

The 2000s

In the 2000s, the League of Ireland's coefficient vastly improved relative to the late 1990s, but at a cost.[16] The introduction of full-time professional football by a number of clubs and the league's move to Summer Soccer at the beginning of the 2008–09, Drogheda concluded 3 successive seasons of victories in the 1st qualifying round of European competitions with a narrow defeat to Dynamo Kyiv.

However, the costs associated with professional football proved to be unsustainable for the vast majority of clubs involved.[17] Shelbourne accumulated millions of Euro worth of debt and were demoted in 2007, while Drogheda entered into examinership in 2008 with a deficit of more than €732,000. Derry City were thrown out of the league in 2009 for producing false documents regarding contracts, in an effort to hide their financial position,[11] while Cork City went out of business as their holding company Cork City Investments Fc Ltd was wound up in 2010 after an extended period of financial trouble[18] though fans group FORAS rallied together to set up a new club.

The 2010s

This period of improvement came to an end in 2010 with the league's ranking dropping. From 29th in 2010, it dropped to 31st in 2011, 33rd in 2012, 36th in 2013 and 43rd for the 2014 rankings.

League of Ireland clubs

Premier Division

Team Base Manager Stadium Capacity Founded
Bohemians Dublin Keith Long Dalymount Park 10,000 1890
Bray Wanderers Bray Alan Mathews Carlisle Grounds 7,000 1942
Cork City Cork John Caulfield Turners Cross 7,485 1984
Derry City Derry Peter Hutton Brandywell 7,700 2010
Drogheda United Drogheda Johnny McDonnell United Park 2,000 1975
Dundalk F.C. Dundalk Stephen Kenny Oriel Park 4,500 1903
Galway F.C. Galway Tommy Dunne Eamonn Deacy Park 5,000 2013
Limerick F.C. Limerick Martin Russell Thomond Park 25,630 2007
Longford Town Longford Tony Cousins City Calling Stadium 6,850 1924
Shamrock Rovers Dublin Pat Fenlon Tallaght Stadium 6,000 1901
Sligo Rovers Sligo Owen Heary The Showgrounds 4,500 1928
St Patrick's Athletic Dublin Liam Buckley Richmond Park 5,340 1929

First Division

Team Base Manager Stadium Capacity Founded
Athlone Town Athlone Eddie Wallace Lissywoolen Stadium 5,000 1887
Cobh Ramblers Cobh Martin Cambridge St Colman's Park 5,980 1922
Finn Harps Ballybofey Ollie Horgan Finn Park 6,000 1954
Shamrock Rovers B Dublin Colin Hawkins Tallaght Stadium 6,000 2013
Shelbourne Dublin Tolka Park 6,000 1895
University College Dublin Dublin Aaron Callaghan UCD Bowl 3,000 1895
Waterford United Waterford Tommy Griffin RSC 5,500 1930
Wexford Youths Crossabeg Shane Keegan Ferrycarrig Park 2,500 2007

Under 19 Elite League of Ireland

On 21 April 2011 the Football Association of Ireland announced the formation of a new Under 19 Elite League. The idea behind this development was to create a clear pathway for young players in Ireland to ultimately progress into the first teams of League of Ireland clubs.[19]

Club Winners Runners-up Championship seasons
Cork City
2011-12, 2012–13, 2013–14
Shamrock Rovers

Media Coverage

The television rights for the League of Ireland are negotiated by the FAI with the individual broadcasters RTÉ and Setanta Sports. RTÉ, who also produce a weekly radio show covering the League of Ireland,[20] hold the rights to broadcast a weekly highlights programme, Monday Night Soccer, as well as the rights to live games in the League and FAI Cup, towards the conclusion of the season.[21] The deal, which is part of the broadcaster's wider contract with the FAI for the coverage of Irish football, runs until 2013.[22] Setanta Sports broadcast live games from the League of Ireland and Setanta Sports Cup, in addition to the final of the League of Ireland Cup. From 2001 to 2007, TV3 held the rights to broadcast a weekly highlights programme. In 1998, a League of Ireland game was broadcast live on television for the first time. This year it was announced that the premier league and fai cup games would go up from 17 to 24 live games per season.

League of Ireland clubs are obliged to accept and cooperate with the television rights, negotiated by the FAI, under the terms of the League's participation agreement. This leaves the dates and times of certain fixtures in the hands of the television companies, which can impact on match attendances. The 10 clubs competing in the Premier Division received an equal share payment of €20,000 during the 2009 season, while an additional €35,000 was set aside to compensate clubs with six or more fixtures selected for live television broadcast, or four or more live television fixtures held on nights other than Friday. RTÉ no longer pay any money to clubs for television rights and still control the time and date of fixtures. In Australia, the League of Ireland is broadcast by Setanta Sports. Currently two SSE Airtricity league TV packages were awarded to Setanta Sports and RTE, under this agreement Setanta will show 10 games while RTE will show 15 games this is in addition to live games in the Setanta Sports Cup, FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup which are available from the two broadcasters.


The League of Ireland was sponsored by Irish telecommunications company, Eircom from 2000 to 2008, when the company withdrew funding. The League of Ireland had been sponsored by Bord Gáis during the early 1990s. The league had no title sponsor in 2009, but had a number of secondary sponsors including Newstalk and Electronic Arts. In 2010, Airtricity signed a three-year deal to become the title sponsor of the League of Ireland.[3]

First Division



See also


  1. ^ a b Ahern, Neil (2010-06-01). "All clubs back FAI's league role".  
  2. ^ Emmet Malone (2009-12-17). "Worst of crises over for clubs, says Delaney".  
  3. ^ a b "Airtricity generates buzz for League with three-year deal". 2010-02-26. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  4. ^ Shane Murray (2007-06-26). "Eircom League Focus".  
  5. ^ "Shels €10m in debt – report". 2007-01-30. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  6. ^ Gary Brown (2007-02-25). "Delighted Shels are back from the brink".  
  7. ^ "Drogheda United seek examinership". 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  8. ^ Emmet Malone (2008-12-03). "Drogheda United officials hold public meeting tonight in effort to save club".  
  9. ^ James McAllister (2009-06-08). "FAI must learn lessons from Cork debacle". Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  10. ^ Daniel McDonnell (2010-02-24). "Despite heartache for fans and players, the harsh reality is that City got what they deserved".  
  11. ^ a b "Derry thrown out of League of Ireland".  
  12. ^ "Bohemians lose court case over Dalymount – €60m deal now in doubt". 2008-11-07. Retrieved 2011-03-28. 
  13. ^ Daniel McDonnell (2009-12-03). "FAI reject change to league format".  
  14. ^
  15. ^ UEFA country ranking,, accessed 13 July 2013
  16. ^ Daniel McDonnell (2009-06-22). "Poisoned chalice or holy grail?".  
  17. ^ "Mahon slams rivals on Euro gambles".  
  18. ^ Noel O'Reilly (2010-02-23). "Cork City put out of business".  
  19. ^ Airtricity (2011-04-21). "U19 Seminar a big success". League of Ireland. Retrieved 2011-04-21. 
  20. ^ "The League of Ireland Football Show".  
  21. ^ "RTÉ to screen even more domestic soccer".  
  22. ^ Emmet Malone (2008-11-25). Monday Night Soccer' may be moved from prime-time slot"'".  

External links

  • Official Website
  • League of Ireland
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