CHANGES AHEAD 2018 League of Ireland Premier Division set for earlier start with promotion-relegation play-off returning
Talks are still ongoing between clubs and the FAI with the clubs favouring a longer season
THE 2018 League of Ireland season is set for an early start on February 16 — and the promotion-relegation play-offs will make a return.
Talks between the Premier Club Alliance and FAI on the format of the new ten-team divisions are still ongoing.
The option of a mid-season split into top-half and bottom-half tiers has been discussed. Clubs favour a 36-game season with four rounds of games.
The longer season means an earlier start, with a Friday, February 16 kick-off mooted.
That would ensure the traditional grand finale on the Friday of the October Bank Holiday weekend stays.
A mid-season break is still to be finalised. It will be two or three weeks long and with FAI Cup weekends likely to be free of any league fixtures, there would be at least five rounds of midweek games.
There could be many more if clubs seek postponements around European fixtures, with Cork City guaranteed at least four matches next year.
Uefa has changed the format of the Champions League to favour bigger leagues — Irish clubs now face four rounds to reach the group stages, rather than three.
But the compensation for smaller leagues is that any side eliminated from the Champions League goes straight into the next round of the Europa League.
In previous years, Irish sides had to win one Champions League tie to guarantee the safety net of the Europa League.
FAI competitions director Fran Gavin said: “The structure of European football next year as well means Cork City, as champions, will play in the first round.
“And if by any chance they lose that round, they go into the Europa League, they’ll be seeded in that with every possibility of winning.”
The play-offs will definitely return next season, though the format is still being discussed.
It is a question of whether to pair second in the First and second-from-bottom in the Premier against each other or involve more First Division teams.
https://www.thesun.ie/sport/football/17 ... returning/