League of Ireland

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League of Ireland
League of Ireland logo.png
Country  Ireland (19 teams)
Other club(s) from Northern Ireland (1 team)
Confederation UEFA
Founded 1921
Divisions Premier Division
First Division
Number of teams 20
Level on pyramid 1–2
Domestic cup(s) FAI Cup
President's Cup
League cup(s) League of Ireland Cup
International cup(s) UEFA Champions League
UEFA Europa League
Current champions Dundalk (Premier Division)
Wexford Youths (First Division)
Most championships Shamrock Rovers (17)
TV partners RTÉ 2
Eir Sport
Website SSEAirtricityLeague.ie
2016 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 because 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 42nd of the 55 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, 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 was known as the 'Free State League' between 1922 and 1937. It 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 re-emergence 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 nearly went out of existence .[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 Winning 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, 2015
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
Cork Celticdagger
Drogheda United
Cork Hibernians
Finn Harps
Galway United
  • dagger Cork Celtic was known as Evergreen United before 1960.
  • Clubs in Italics no longer exist.


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[edit]

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 team placed 11th in the Premier Division faces the winner of a play-off between 2nd and 3rd place in the First Division. The winner of this match, known as the promtion/relegation play-off, takes their place in the Premier Division the next year. At present there is no relegation from the First Division. Expressions of interest for application to the League of Ireland are extended to potential participants on occasion, with Cabinteely F.C. becoming the latest club to enter the First Division, replacing Shamrock Rovers B.

European qualification[edit]

The top teams 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 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, and the next highest placed team in the league that has not already qualified will take the last UEFA Europa League spot. 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[edit]

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. 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[edit]

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 2003 season, aided progress in European competition. Increased fitness levels resulted from both, while full-time professionalism 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 from 2003 to 2014. Shelbourne and Bohemians signalled the start of a rapid upturn in 2000–01, with wins in the Champions League and UEFA Cup respectively. 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 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[edit]

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. The league recovered to 40th for the 2015 rankings and finished 41st in the 2016 rankings.

League of Ireland clubs[edit]

Premier Division[edit]

Team Home city/suburb Stadium
Bohemians Phibsborough, Dublin Dalymount Park
Bray Wanderers Bray Carlisle Grounds
Cork City Cork Turner's Cross
Derry City Derry Brandywell Stadium
Dundalk Dundalk Oriel Park
Finn Harps Ballybofey Finn Park
Galway United Galway Eamonn Deacy Park
Longford Town Longford City Calling Stadium
Shamrock Rovers Tallaght, Dublin Tallaght Stadium
Sligo Rovers Sligo The Showgrounds
St. Patrick's Athletic Inchicore, Dublin Richmond Park
Wexford Youths Crossabeg Ferrycarrig Park

First Division[edit]

Locations of the First Division teams
Team Home city/suburb Stadium
Athlone Town Athlone Athlone Town Stadium
Cabinteely Cabinteely Stradbrook Road
Cobh Ramblers Cobh St. Colman's Park
Drogheda United Drogheda United Park
Limerick Limerick Markets Field
Shelbourne Drumcondra, Dublin Tolka Park
UCD Belfield, Dublin UCD Bowl
Waterford United Waterford RSC

Former League of Ireland clubs[edit]

Team Home town/suburb Home ground Current league
Albert Rovers Cork Flower Lodge
Bray Unknowns Bray Carlisle Grounds
Brideville The Liberties, Dublin Richmond Park
Harold's Cross Stadium
Brooklyn Merchants Quay Chalgrove Terrace
Cork Cork The Mardyke
Cork City Cork The Mardyke
Cork Alberts Cork Flower Lodge
Turners Cross
Cork Athletic Cork The Mardyke
Cork Bohemians Cork Turners Cross
Cork Celtic Cork Turners Cross
Cork Hibernians Cork The Mardyke
Cork United Cork The Mardyke
Dolphin Dolphin's Barn Dolphin Park
Harold's Cross Stadium
Tolka Park
Drumcondra Drumcondra, Dublin Tolka Park Leinster Senior League
Dublin City Fingal various
Dublin United Donnybrook, Dublin Beech Hill
Anglesea Road
Evergreen United Cork Turners Cross
Fordsons Cork Ballinlough Road
Frankfort Drumcondra, Dublin Richmond Road
Home Farm Whitehall, Dublin Tolka Park Leinster Senior League
Jacobs Crumlin, Dublin Rutland Avenue
Kildare County Newbridge, County Kildare Station Road
Kilkenny City Kilkenny Buckley Park
Mervue United Galway Fahy's Field Galway & District League
Midland Athletic Whitehall, Dublin The Thatch
Monaghan United Monaghan Kingspan Century Park Dublin Women's Soccer League
Newcastlewest Newcastle West Ballygowan Park Limerick Desmond League
Olympia The Coombe, Dublin Bellevue Lodge
Pioneers Dublin Strand Hall
The Thatch
Leinster Senior League
Rathmines Athletic Rathmines Rathmines Park
Reds United Ringsend Glenmalure Park
Salthill Devon Salthill Drom Soccer Park Galway & District League
St. Francis The Liberties/Clondalkin John Hyland Park Leinster Senior League
St. James's Gate Crumlin, Dublin Iveagh Grounds Leinster Senior League
Shelbourne United Ringsend Beech Hill
Anglesea Road
Glenmalure Park
Shamrock Rovers B Tallaght Tallaght Stadium
Sporting Fingal Fingal Morton Stadium
Thurles Town Thurles Thurles Greyhound Stadium North Tipperary District League
Transport Bray/Harold's Cross Carlisle Grounds
Harold's Cross Stadium
Leinster Senior League
YMCA Sandymount YMCA Sports Grounds

Under 19 Elite League of Ireland[edit]

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, 2015
St Pats
Shamrock Rovers

Media coverage[edit]

The television rights for the SSE Airtricity League are negotiated by the FAI with the individual broadcasters RTÉ and Eir Sport. Under the current deal RTÉ will show 78 league and FAI Cup games beginning in August 2014 up to November 2018.[20] While Eir Sport will show 9 league games a year and the final of the League of Ireland Cup. RTÉ also produce a highlights show Soccer Republic airing every Monday throughout the league season at 11:05 [21]

The FAI agreed a deal with TrackChamp in 2015 to show all Premier Division Fixtures from the 2016 Season onwards in all countries outside Ireland. The deal allows any person with an active bwin account to watch the matches on a live stream. The camera uses sensors to track the ball. The footage captured will also be offered to the clubs as means of reviewing the game.


The League of Ireland was sponsored by Irish telecommunications company, Eircom from 2000 to 2008. 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[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ahern, Neil (1 June 2010). "All clubs back FAI's league role". Irish Independent. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  2. ^ Emmet Malone (17 December 2009). "Worst of crises over for clubs, says Delaney". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Airtricity generates buzz for League with three-year deal". extratime.ie. 26 February 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  4. ^ Shane Murray (26 June 2007). "Eircom League Focus". RTÉ. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  5. ^ "Shels €10m in debt – report". eleven-a-side.com. 30 January 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  6. ^ Gary Brown (25 February 2007). "Delighted Shels are back from the brink". Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  7. ^ "Drogheda United seek examinership". breakingnews.ie. 15 October 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  8. ^ Emmet Malone (3 December 2008). "Drogheda United officials hold public meeting tonight in effort to save club". The Irish Times. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  9. ^ James McAllister (8 June 2009). "FAI must learn lessons from Cork debacle". eleven-a-side.com. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  10. ^ Daniel McDonnell (24 February 2010). "Despite heartache for fans and players, the harsh reality is that City got what they deserved". Irish Independent. Retrieved 25 February 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "Derry thrown out of League of Ireland". RTÉ. 7 November 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009. 
  12. ^ "Bohemians lose court case over Dalymount – €60m deal now in doubt". Herald.ie. 7 November 2008. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  13. ^ Daniel McDonnell (3 December 2009). "FAI reject change to league format". Irish Independent. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  14. ^ http://www.extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7103/
  15. ^ UEFA country ranking, xs4all.nl, accessed 13 July 2013
  16. ^ Daniel McDonnell (22 June 2009). "Poisoned chalice or holy grail?". Irish Independent. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 
  17. ^ "Mahon slams rivals on Euro gambles". Irish Independent. 23 July 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 
  18. ^ Noel O'Reilly (23 February 2010). "Cork City put out of business". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 February 2010. 
  19. ^ Airtricity (21 April 2011). "U19 Seminar a big success". League of Ireland. Retrieved 21 April 2011. 
  20. ^ http://www.rte.ie/sport/soccer/irish/2014/0829/640224-rte-fai-tv/
  21. ^ http://www.rte.ie/sport/soccer/irish/2014/0226/506830-soccer-republic-programme-kicks-off-in-march/

External links[edit]