It’s sad to say, but us League of Ireland fans are somewhat used to being left in the dark when it comes to domestic football in Ireland.

Unfortunately, this has certainly been the case ever since Covid-19 disrupted everything.

Frustration has been constantly growing around the League of Ireland community ahead of the 2021 Premier and First Division campaigns.

Thankfully, we seem to have a small glimmering light at the end of the tunnel, as the FAI finally gave us some recent updates.

FAI extends football activity suspension due to COVID-19 crisis | Newstalk

Both leagues were originally set to commence in February but had to be pushed back due to rapidly increasing Covid-19 numbers in Ireland.

Many believed we wouldn’t see Irish football until at least April, we don’t have to wait that long.

Domestic Football In 2021

The Premier Division will kick off on Friday, 19th of March. While First Division fans must only wait a week longer, with the lower league starting on the 26th of March.

I’m sure these dates are subject to change, but it gives us lot a little bit of hope.

Most teams are believed to be beginning pre-season training in the first week of February.

In typical FAI fashion, they treat us with this news, yet still leave us in the dark on other key issues.

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division Grounds: Worst to Best - The Big  Kick Off

Unanswered Questions

Fixtures are scheduled to be released at the end of this month. No solid date for the launch of the fixture list has been confirmed at the time of writing.

Also, while we know the teams that will be competing in this seasons Premier Division. The same can’t be said when it comes to the First Division.

Everyone involved in the First Division still has vital questions that they need answered.

We still haven’t got confirmation on how many teams will be playing in the 2021 First Division season. Also, whether Shamrock Rovers II will be involved this time around again.

Fans are also eager to know the status on Limerick based side Treaty United. As plenty of us would love to see a League of Ireland side back in the Munster county.

Conn Murray "confident we've done everything we can to bring league of  Ireland soccer back " - Sporting Limerick

There also seems to be radio silence on news regarding the streaming service WatchLOI.

The platform launched last season to give fans access to their teams matches during our multiple lockdowns.

While the big aim this season is to have fans back in stadiums at some stage, it would be a crying shame to see the service get dropped.

It can keep fans living abroad or those that can’t make games up to date. Of course, the service could do with some adjustments, but it can only be a positive to bring it back in 2021.

Finn Harps

Sponsorship Sorted

Thankfully, we were gifted more hopeful news regarding domestic football in 2021.

SSE Airtricity have confirmed they will be sponsoring the League of Ireland for a further two years.

Their previous deal expired at the end of last season, with rumours circulating that they wouldn’t be coming back on board.

Irish bookmakers Paddy Power were one of the rumoured companies to take over sponsorship duties, but Airtricity will continue their decade long relationship with the league.

The electrical and gas company has been prevalent with their promotion of the league since this news has been announced.

However, it would be appreciated if they would do this level of promotion on a more consistent basis.

Fans would be much happier with improved local and national advertising. If Airtricity could also give the league more spotlight on their social media platform and website, it can only be beneficial.

As I mentioned, the early signs have been positive with that.

SSE Airtricity will also be working with marketing company Ripple Marketing.

It’s believed Ripple Marketing will be helping with marketing and promotional strategies. On paper another hopeful and long overdue step forward for the promotion of the League of Ireland.

In fairness, it’s great to have the sponsorship. Just improvements in the promotion of the league and details on the new extension are needed.

One big detail we do know on the new sponsorship agreement concerns the Women’s National League.

Not only will SSE Airtricity sponsor the Premier Division and First Division, but the WNL too for the next two years.

Positive news for the often forgotten about women’s league, which is also due to start on the 26th of March.

Financial Concerns

Money is always another hot topic in our league and is a major worry during this pandemic.

Honestly, at this rate we will be lucky to have fans return to grounds before late summer.

The issue of no match day revenue and declining commercial income is one clubs know about at this stage.

If the league is going to go ahead in March with a full set of fixtures, further financial aid will be needed.

Clubs are pleading for Government support due to the lack of income they would usually receive during normal times. Fear is rapidly growing around clubs.

Some Premier Division sides have enquired about meetings with sports ministers Jack Chambers and Catherine Martin to pitch their appeal for a grant.

With the knowledge that some clubs will be starting pre-season on the 1st of February, player contracts will also kick in. This requires clubs to seek clarity on the viability of going ahead this season with no fans in the stadium for a good majority of it.

Every club bar Derry City availed of the wage subsidy scheme too. That is due to only run until the end of March, giving clubs another headache to think about.

Clubs must just assume they won’t have any paying spectators coming through their turnstiles this season. Trying to estimate their income and factor in their budget will be a nightmare task for most clubs with the way things stand.

Covid-19 restrictions: What do they mean for sport in Ireland?

Worry and Fear

It took around €2 million to restart the league last season and that was with a reduced schedule.

While you want to be optimistic about the return of the League of Ireland, it brings with it a lot of worry.

Clubs continue to struggle with football set to return in eight and nine weeks.

Fans and clubs alike are in the dark on key factors with financial backing and broadcasting/streaming to say the least.

If the clubs are successful with their plea for another Government bailout, the 2021 season could become more viable.

For now, finances once again remain a major concern for those involved with the running of clubs.

Fai Statement On New Government Guidelines SSE Airtricity League

Regardless are you still excited for the return of League of Ireland football? I know the fan inside of me certainly is.

As always continue to support local football and continue to support us here at the Big Kick Off. We are always trying to expand our League of Ireland content.

Our League of Ireland podcast will also be returning soon, so please do keep an eye out for that.

As always, thank you very much for your support and keep safe, you big legend.