As Longford Town head into the first round of Airtricity League promotion play-offs against Mervue United tomorrow night, uncertainty surrounds the future of the Galway club.
With an agreement in place to merge with Salthill Devon to create a single Galway-based club next season, Mervue’s qualification for the play-offs has resulted in confusion amongst League of Ireland supporters, with suggestions emerging that the team could renege on the deal should it gain promotion to the Premier Division.
The Football Association of Ireland last week said it expected the merger to proceed as planned and that neither Mervue United or Salthill Devon will compete in the 2014 Airtricity League season, but rumours to the contrary have continued to circulate.
However, when contacted by the Longford Leader, a spokesperson from the FAI’s Communications Department reiterated the association’s stance on the issue: “Mervue United and Salthill Devon will not be competing in the Airtricity League 2014 season, and have agreed to be part of the new Galway entity which will apply for a licence to play in next season’s First Division.”
The association has also ruled out any possibility of the new Galway team inheriting Mervue’s sporting merit ranking, which would enable the club to directly enter the Premier Division if Mervue beats both Longford Town and the 11th-place Premier Division team in the play-offs. “If a club does not take their place in the Premier Division in 2014, then the club with next highest sporting ranking will take that position, provided they receive a Premier Division licence,” the spokesperson stated. “This means that the new Galway entity would enter the Airtricity League at First Division level and would not be able to go directly into the Premier Division should Mervue win the promotion-relegation play-off. Mervue’s place in the Premier Division would go to the team ranked immediately below them in the sporting merit table, which would be the team beaten in the promotion-relegation play-off.”
With the fate of the club apparently now sealed, questions have also been raised over the logic of having the Fahy’s Field side competing in the play-offs.
One possible alternative could have been to allow the nearest-placed eligible club in Division One – Waterford United – to take Mervue’s spot, but when contacted earlier this week, the Blues’ secretary, Ray Scott, poured cold water on the idea. “Mervue have been a revelation this season and deserve to be where they are,” he said. “There’s no sense of aggrievement here at Waterford United. We finished fourth, so we were simply not good enough.”
Round one of the play-offs takes place tomorrow evening when Mervue United host Longford Town at Fahy’s Field, with the return fixture taking place at City Calling Stadium on Friday, Octbober 25. The winners will then face the side which finishes in 11th place in the Premier Division, which looks likely to be either Bray Wanderers or UCD, after Shelbourne slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Limerick FC last night, leaving the Dublin side on the brink of automatic relegation.