With the Galway-based team set to take on Longford Town in the first of two promotion playoff legs, events off the field have been further amplified
By Patrick Corbett in Galway
Meritocracy is a cornerstone of the modern age. The idea that if you apply your natural talents, in tandem with hard work and a smidge of good luck, then you will get the your just desserts is one of the drivers of ambition in the pursuit of one's goals. Of course there are certain elements of corruption that skew the system and in a country the size of Ireland this is particularly true, where parochial contacts and influences play a huge part in getting ahead or, for that matter, even getting a start.
Often the system itself seems set up to defeat you; your accent, your socio-economic background or your access to services and opportunities can all, through no fault of your own, work against you. One place where the playing field is at its most level, however, is in sport. If you work hard your talents and endeavour will be rewarded, but try telling that to the players of Mervue United.
Mervue United have won six games on the trot to make a charge up the Airtricity First Division table and secure a place in the promotion playoffs this Friday, but all of their work will be for nought. It has been a remarkable performance from the team from the east of Galway city. However, the Sword of Damocles has hung over Mervue United ever since the announcement of the formation of a new Galway-based team for the 2014 season, in line with the O'Connor report.
"It should never have come to this, it should all have been laid out at the start of the season," Mervue defender Tom King told Goal.
The Castlebar native has enjoyed three seasons at Fahy's Field since joining in 2011 from the now-defunct Galway United and his efforts this season have seen him named in the PFAI First Division Team of the Year along with team mates Barry O'Mahony and Ryan Manning. However, history is repeating itself for King, with Mervue set to end their time in the League of Ireland.
Mervue's efforts will probably be in vain with a new team being formed, most probably called 'Galway FC', moving football from the Galway suburbs to the city centre. There is a great amount of will in Galway to return League of Ireland action to the city centre and operating three teams in a catchment area of the city's size is not feasible, but this is scant solace for the players and supporters of Mervue United.
Three years ago Mervue United celebrated 50 years in existence and it is five years since they made the leap to senior League of Ireland status. Their presence in the league was a struggle from day one. The club's home ground Fahy's Field was deemed not to be up to standard by the league, forcing the club to migrate from their east Galway home to Terryland Park. The move away from their fanbase affected attendances to the degree that they were the lowest in league records, but in 2011 the club got their ground up to code and returned to their spiritual home.
One team to rule them all | League of Ireland football will return to Terryland Park next season
Considering their size and location Mervue have punched above their weight and are a very well run club in the heart of their community. The reward for their progress is to be absorbed into a new club whose formation has been a masterclass in miscommunication, bad timing and confusion. If Mervue prevail against Longford Town in the playoff and again against, most probably, Shelbourne, to gain promotion to the Premier Division then they will be within their rights to apply for a licence for the 2014 season.
In all likelihood their application will fail. Decisions have been made in the upper echelons of the game and those decisions do not envision an immediate future in the League of Ireland for Mervue. The reasons for this are outlined in the O'Connor report, which advises the formation of a single team for the area, and, when assessed through the lens of the FAI, it makes sense. The governing body for Irish football has a product and it is their responsibility to maximise that product to ensure it flourishes for future generations. Galway is not big enough to sustain two teams, let alone three, but this does not make it any easier for Mervue to swallow.
This process has been handled in typically Irish fashion, that is to say, not very well at all. Before the season started it is reported that John Delaney told the Galway clubs that from the 2014 season there would be only one club and that this club would be Galway FC. However, King told Goal that confusion has reigned throughout the year. "Nothing has ever been confirmed," he said. "It's been up in the air all season."
Nothing concrete emerged until halfway through the season when it was confirmed that Mervue and Salthill would not be given licences. At the halfway point of the season it looked a safe bet that neither club would be bothering the business-end of the table. It is a credit to the players and staff at Mervue that despite having having the noose tightening around their league existence they have defied the odds and shone a light on the mismanagement of the game.
The multiple of financial stipulations and regulations required of a club to compete in the Airtricity Premier League means that even if Mervue are successful in their promotion attempt they would not be granted a licence irrespective of the ongoing formation of this new Galway team. Mervue will return to their pre 2009 status and there is talk of a Connacht Senior league in which both themselves and Salthill will compete.
Despite the background noise, the Mervue players have not allowed the controversy to affect their preparation. "It's not really bothering the players as much," said King, who like so many in the League of Ireland faces uncertainty, becoming a free-agent with the close of each season.
The players and staff involved are a credit to their club and their community in the manner in which they carried themselves this season. Doing their talking on the pitch, they hope that their late run of form will see them gain the right to apply for a Premier Division licence in what will prove to be a fitting swansong for their League of Ireland adventure.
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