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League of Ireland
Countries Republic of Ireland Ireland
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland
Confederation UEFA
Founded 1921
Number of teams 22
Current champions Bohemians (2009)
Most championships Shamrock Rovers (15)
2010 League of Ireland

The League of Ireland (Irish: Sraith na hÉireann) is the primary national football league of Ireland. Founded in 1921, as a league of eight clubs, it has expanded over time into a two-tiered league of 22 clubs. It is currently split into the League of Ireland Premier Division and the League of Ireland First Division. The league was governed by its members, the clubs, from its foundation to 2006, when it entered into a five year merger with the FAI. It has suffered severe financial problems in recent years due to mismanagement and overspending by its clubs.[1] It is currently sponsored by Airtricity and therefore officially known as the Airtricity League.[2]

The league includes one club from Northern Ireland, Derry City. Derry City formerly played in the Irish Football League, but voluntarily left that league following the 1972–73 season as a result of safety and security concerns. Derry City joined the League of Ireland at the second level in 1985, after a special dispensation from the Irish Football Association (IFA) and UEFA. They won promotion in 1987, and remained in the top division of the League of Ireland until 2009, when they were expelled for operating an illegal system of contracts.[3] They were subsequently liquidated, with a successor club placed in the First Division in 2010.[4]

The League of Ireland is currently ranked 29th of the 53 national leagues under UEFA jurisdiction. The league's most successful club is Shamrock Rovers, with 15 League of Ireland titles won. They are one of three clubs in Ireland, with Bohemians and Shelbourne, to sport a golden star above their crest in recognition of winning ten titles. Bohemians are the only club with unbroken membership of the league since its inception.



The League of Ireland was established as the Free State League in 1921 and 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 claimed 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 claimed 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.[5] 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,[6][7] while Drogheda went into examinership in 2008,[8] having won the League of Ireland the previous year.[9] Cork City also entered into examinership in the same year,[10] and went out of existence in 2010.[11] 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.[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
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
St Patrick's Athletic
1951–52, 1954–55, 1955–56, 1989–90, 1995–96, 1997–98, 1998–99
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
Cork City
1992–93, 2005
Derry City
1988–89, 1996–97
1959–60, 1979–80
Sligo Rovers
1936–37, 1976–77
Athlone Town
1980–81, 1982–83
St James's Gate
1921–22, 1939–40
Cork Athletic
1949–50, 1950–51
Cork Celtic
Cork Hibernians
Drogheda United


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 for the first time 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. This is the system currently in place, though these formats and numbers were reversed for 4 seasons, from 2005 to 2008. The system is unpopular amongst the majority of managers, players and club officials within the league, according to a League of Ireland review conducted in 2009.[13]

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 8th and 9th in the Premier Division face off, with the loser playing the winner of a similar encounter between the teams placed 2nd and 3rd in the First Division, in a two legged play-off. 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 for champions. The second-placed team qualifies for the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round. The third placed-team qualifies for the first qualifying round. They, similarly, must go through two and three two-legged knockout ties respectively in order to enter the Second Round group phase of that competition. There is another UEFA Europa League first qualifying round slot reserved for the winners of the FAI Cup. 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.

UEFA coefficient and ranking

The League of Ireland's UEFA coefficient accumulates to a total value of 9.541 as of 2010. Since 1998, the league's place on the coefficent table has risen 15 places, the highest of any league in Europe.

Background information

The League of Ireland's coefficient has vastly improved since the late 1990s, but at a cost.[14] 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 2003 season, have aided progress in European competition. Increased fitness levels have resulted from both, while full-time professionalism has retained Irish players within the league, attracted foreign players to the league and generally improved the standard of football. At least one League of Ireland club has progressed to the next round of a European competition in every season for the last 10 years, excluding the 2002–03 season. Shelbourne and Bohemians signalled the start of the rapid upturn in 2000–01, with wins in the Champions League and UEFA Cup. The 2004–05 UEFA Champions League saw Shelbourne progress past KR Reykjavík and Hajduk Split to reach the 3rd qualifying round of the competition. Victories over Swedish clubs became the main focal points of the progress for a few seasons after that. Cork City defeated Djurgården in 2005, having beaten Malmö 4–1 on aggregate in 2004, while Derry City beat former UEFA Cup winners, IFK Göteborg, 2–0 on aggregate in 2006. In 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 have proven to be unsustainable for the vast majority of clubs involved. Shelbourne accumulated millions of Euro worth of debt and were relegated 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,[12] while Cork City went out of existence in 2010 after an extended period of financial trouble.[15]

League of Ireland clubs

Premier Division

Team Base Manager Stadium Capacity Founded
Bohemians Dublin Republic of Ireland Pat Fenlon Dalymount Park 7,955 1890
Bray Wanderers Bray Republic of Ireland Eddie Gormley Carlisle Grounds 3,250 1942
Drogheda United Drogheda Republic of Ireland Alan Mathews United Park 2,000 1975
Dundalk Dundalk England Ian Foster Oriel Park 6,000 1903
Galway United Galway Northern Ireland Sean Connor Terryland Park 5,000 1937
Shamrock Rovers Dublin Northern Ireland Michael O'Neill Tallaght Stadium 5,700 1901
Sligo Rovers Sligo England Paul Cook The Showgrounds 5,500 1928
Sporting Fingal Dublin Republic of Ireland Liam Buckley Morton Stadium 4,000 2007
St. Patrick's Athletic Dublin Republic of Ireland Pete Mahon Richmond Park 5,340 1929
University College Dublin Dublin Republic of Ireland Martin Russell UCD Bowl 3,000 1895

First Division

Team Base Manager Stadium Capacity Founded
Athlone Town Athlone Republic of Ireland Brendan Place Lissywoolen Stadium 5,000 1887
Cork City FORAS Co-op Cork City Republic of Ireland Tommy Dunne Turners Cross 7,485 2010
Derry City Derry Republic of Ireland Steven Kenny Brandywell 8,200 2010
Finn Harps Ballybofey Northern Ireland James Gallagher Finn Park 7,500 1954
Limerick Limerick Republic of Ireland Pat Scully Jackman Park 3,000 2007
Longford Town Longford Republic of Ireland Gareth Cronin Flancare Park 6,850 1924
Mervue United Galway Republic of Ireland Tom French Terryland Park 6,500 1960
Monaghan United Monaghan Northern Ireland Mick Cooke Century Homes Park 3,000 1979
Salthill Devon Galway Republic of Ireland Emlyn Long Drom 2,000 1977
Shelbourne Dublin Republic of Ireland Dermot Keely Tolka Park 9,680 1895
Waterford United Waterford Republic of Ireland Stephen Henderson RSC 3,100 1930
Wexford Youths Crossabeg Republic of Ireland Mick Wallace Ferrycarraig Park 2,500 2007

Television rights

The television rights for the League of Ireland are negotiated by the FAI with the individual broadcasters, RTÉ, Setanta Sports and TG4. RTÉ 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.[16] The deal, which is part of the broadcaster's wider contract with the FAI for the coverage of Irish football, runs until 2013.[17] TG4 hold the rights to show selected live games in both competitions, while 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.

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.[18]


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.[2]

First Division



See also


  1. ^ Emmet Malone (2009-12-17). "Worst of crises over for clubs, says Delaney". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Airtricity generates buzz for League with three-year deal". 2010-02-26. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  3. ^ "No return for Derry with same officials, says Delaney". The Irish Times. 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  4. ^ "Licences revealed, Cork saga goes on". 2010-02-15. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  5. ^ Shane Murray. "Eircom League Focus". RTÉ. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  6. ^ "Shels €10m in debt – report". 2007-01-30. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  7. ^ Gary Brown (2007-02-25). "Delighted Shels are back from the brink". Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  8. ^ "Drogheda United seek examinership". 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  9. ^ Emmet Malone (2008-12-03). "Drogheda United officials hold public meeting tonight in effort to save club". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  10. ^ James McAllister (2009-06-08). "FAI must learn lessons from Cork debacle". Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  11. ^ Daniel McDonnell (2010-02-24). "Despite heartache for fans and players, the harsh reality is that City got what they deserved". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  12. ^ a b "Derry thrown out of League of Ireland". RTÉ. 2009-11-07. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  13. ^ Daniel McDonnell (2009-12-03). "FAI reject change to league format". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  14. ^ Daniel McDonnell (2009-06-22). "Poisoned chalice or holy grail?". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  15. ^ Noel O'Reilly (2010-02-23). "Cork City put out of business". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  16. ^ "RTÉ to screen even more domestic soccer". RTÉ. 2010-03-03. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  17. ^ Emmet Malone (2008-11-25). "'Monday Night Soccer' may be moved from prime-time slot". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  18. ^ "Increased prize money for League of Ireland". The Irish Times. 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 

External links

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