By Derek McKenna
Sheriff YC captured their fifth AUL Premier A title in a row on Tuesday night by beating nearest challengers St Pauls Artane by four goals to nil. It was their sixth Premier A title in seven years.
During that time period they have also won every trophy that they could possibly win in the junior game including two FAI Junior Cups and Leinster Junior Cups, Tom Hand Cups and every domestic trophy they have entered in the AUL – again and again.
The inner-city side have come to be recognised by many as one of the best amateur teams of all time. Their defeat in last Sunday’s FAI Junior Cup final against Liffey Wanderers will not tarnish that recognition.
Success in itself breeds success, but it also implants a desire within the successful to achieve more, to win more and to become even greater. With all Sheriff have achieved over the past number of years, is it possible for them to become greater within the confines of junior football? Is the time now right for them to follow other junior giants such as Cherry Orchard, Killester Utd, Tolka Rovers, Ballymun Utd etc etc in making the move to the intermediate ranks?
Almost as soon as the news came in that Sheriff had won this season’s title people took to social media to suggest that they ‘needed a new challenge’ and ‘should make the move to the LSL.’ These calls are nothing new and have been ongoing for the past number of seasons. However with each winning season the echo of the calls increases and with the standard of the AUL Premier A visibly weaker this season, the echo has become deafening.
Alan Reilly’s side have literally strolled through the division this term. So far they have played 19 games – won 18 and drawn 1. They have a goal difference of +64. The only side to get close to Sheriff this year was St Pauls Artane who registered a draw back in September. The champions are simply too good for anyone to compete with them. Admittedly Kilbarrack Utd did push them close over a few seasons but the fact that they were the last side to beat Sheriff in the league more than two years ago tells its own story.
But what lays ahead for Sheriff YC if they decide to tread the path well worn from the junior to the intermediate ranks? What are the practicalities of such a move?
The first thing that has to be considered is private facilities. LSL rules state that any club wishing to move into the intermediate ranks must have their own ground and facilities, something that Sheriff do not have. Ok, they do have access to Clontarf Road but whether this would satisfy the LSL hierarchy is open to interpretation.
The second point to consider is the division that Sheriff would be entered into. It is the norm for any club making the move from junior to intermediate football to start in the LSL’s bottom intermediate division, Senior 1B. This is the division that Sheriff’s conquerors on Sunday, Liffey Wanderers will be playing in next season when they win promotion. It is the division that Ballymun Utd won promotion from this season after their move from the AUL.
But would it be fair to put such an exceptional team as Sheriff into the fourth tier for the LSL when they would most likely be of a standard that would challenge for the LSL Senior Sunday title if entered there?
The answer is of course yes, it would be fair. It is the only place that Sheriff would be able to start life as an intermediate team like the other clubs who have made the move before them. Sure, Sheriff are an exceptional case and there are many who say there should be special rules for a special team. But tell that to the extra club that must get relegated or the team that misses out on promotion to accommodate them.
Unless the LSL could come up with a solution that would not hurt another team then it should not happen. It is the reason why Celtic and Rangers in Scotland will never be able to play in the Premier League unless they start at League 2 – because no club would be willing to give up their spot to accommodate them
So what is the solution if Sheriff decide they should seek a new challenge? Sheriff could decide to start in Senior 1B and attempt to move up the divisions, but with an aging team there is no guarantee that should they make the top tier with three successive promotions that they will hold onto their current squad in doing so. However Senior 1B status would give them entry into the FAI Intermediate Cup should they fancy a crack at that.
Another option that has been mentioned is the possibility of Sheriff’s Premier B side making the move to the LSL and working their way up the divisions while their Premier A side continue to ply their trade in the junior ranks. Then, if the club makes it to the top of the LSL pile they could have a first team playing intermediate football and a second playing junior. There are however lots of ifs, buts and problems in that scenario as players can only be registered to one league so there could be no crossover of players.
Perhaps a path to greatness for any club that wouldn’t require any change of grade from junior to intermediate would be the creation of an FAI Amateur Champions League. A cup competition that would be run midweek between the top two clubs from the junior and intermediate leagues across Ireland. It would certainly give the greats of the junior and and intermediate game a chance to test themselves against each other on a regular basis. The idea however is a fantasy that would require a lot of investment, something the FAI are not noted for in the domestic game.
Of course the idea of Sheriff making the move to the LSL is all hypothetical and nobody within the club has indicated that such a move is afoot. The club seem to be happy on their current path.
Therefore Sheriff’s path to greatness and new challenges can only be achieved by winning more AUL league titles, more AUL cups, more LFA Cups and more FAI Junior Cups. Something that no one would bet against them doing!