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League of Ireland ownership - should clubs change tack?

Historically, ownership within the League of Ireland has often been a thorny and disappointing su...


League of Ireland ownership - should clubs change tack?

Historically, ownership within the League of Ireland has often been a thorny and disappointing subject. Owners leaving clubs high and dry and the constant boom and bust that characterised the first two decades of this century.

Although Shelbourne were not left high and dry by ownership they are a timely reminder of just how long it can take a club to get back on a solid footing after a financial disaster.

Irish Independent journalist Dan McDonnell was on The Football Show on Wednesday night giving a detailed and thorough rundown of ownership structures in the League of Ireland. 

When asked about what ownership structures are like in the domestic game here, McDonnell admitted things are “a mixed bag.”

“In Dundalk, you have a private investment firm from America who owns most of the club,” he said.

“That’s a very different one, but not dissimilar from what we’ve had in the League in the past, where a lot of clubs are privately owned.

“You’ve got St. Patrick’s Athletic with Garret Kelleher, who has propped that club up and pumped money into that club over 13 years now.

“Waterford is similar with Lee Power and you have clubs who are very much reliant on these people.

“People, for years, [would say] ‘Kelleher’s going to leave.’ But he’s still there 13 years later so he’s earned the benefit of the doubt.

“But you are vulnerable to these private ownership [sic] that if they do decide to leave, for whatever reason, you’re in trouble.

“Bohemians would be member-owned and wouldn’t have a big benefactor who is pumping in his own cash.

“Which is a problem for them in terms of keeping up with the top two because they’re reliant on commercial revenue and gates and other stuff that is variable,” McDonnell explained.

Although Shelbourne were privately owned and bankrolled by Ollie Byrne before his untimely passing, Cork City are fan-owned and just this winter they faced a financial crisis that threatened their existence.

“The most interesting case would be Cork City because they were the shining example of a fan-run club. 

“One hundred per cent owned by the supporters who saved the club after a succession of bad private owners, basically,” McDonnell said.

6 July 2017; Sean Maguire of Cork City celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Europa League First Qualifying Round Second Leg match between Cork City and Levadia Tallinn at Turners Cross in Cork. Photo by Doug Minihane/Sportsfile

After their rebirth, Cork City have been the only team thus far to consistently challenge and get the upper hand on Dundalk but it threatened the very existence of the club. After a great decade, they’ve ended up broke, according to McDonnell.

“This is the slight problem that they’ve hit that before the start of the season they had a crisis meeting which lead to Trevor Hemmings, the owner of Preston, coming in and basically paying money for the sell-on clauses of Seani Maguire and Alan Browne.

“Cork are now in this debate, this dilemma, between the fans that are thinking ‘can we as a fan-run club compete or do we need to open ourselves up to Trevor Hemmings who now wants to over the club, effectively?’” he said.


When asked about whether the much-lauded German model of 50+1 would be successful here, he wasn’t sure it could be reliably replicated in a small country.

“In Germany, and it’s a population thing, you’ve got clubs with thousands and thousands of supporters and with their contribution can create a bigger amount.

“I think in a smaller league, like the League of Ireland, it’s harder for the fan-run club and you can’t function as a fan-run club without massive sponsorship,” he said.

“This is why Shamrock Rovers are the interesting [case] because they’re the closest one to the German model.

“It’s 50 per cent fan-owned and 50 per cent private, effectively.

“Ray Wilson, a very wealthy Shamrock Rovers fan based in Australia, had 50 per cent and sold half of that to Dermot Desmond who now holds 25 per cent and paid €2 millon or €3 million for that.

“The fans still had to vote to accept that and they decided to do that but they’ve got the best of both worlds.

“The involvement of support who still have a say in decision making but they also have the support of wealthy people on the other side,” he said.

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Bohemians Bohs Cork City Dundalk Loi Ownership Shamrock Rovers