Only five years ago, the reward Shelbourne FC received for winning the Premier Division title in the Republic of Ireland was a cheque for €20,000. The winner of the 2008 Premier Division championship will get a minimum of €250,000 in prize money – with the possibility of doubling that amount when other monies are taken into account.
Days before the start of a 2008 season, which will see Drogheda United FC defend their title and Roy Keane's former club Cobh Ramblers FC compete in the top flight for the first time in 13 years, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) trumpeted the fact that they will channel at least €2m directly into the coffers of the clubs. "The FAI's total investment in the eircom League of Ireland this season will be €5m and €2m of that sum will go directly to the clubs in the form of prize money, television payments, European participation grants, contributions to club promotions officers and subsidies in relation to insurance and certain match-day costs," said league chairman Eamon Naughton.
The big Irish club sides, such as champions Drogheda, Bohemian FC, Derry City FC and Cork City FC, have all had full-time professional squads for some years, but in the 2008 campaign top-flight newcomers Finn Harps FC will also work on a full-time basis. "We have taken a massive step this year but in reality it's only a small step," said Harps manager Paul Hegarty. "Some of the players are not full-time but they are in full-time training. Rome wasn't built in a day and it will take a while to reap the benefits but over time our players will get fitter and stronger and hopefully we will be in a position to compete."
Many in the game wonder if clubs can sustain the ever-increasing rise in costs, especially wages. It has been widely reported that a number of high-profile players who recently moved clubs were demanding weekly wages of €3,000. That means that teams who get average gates of 2,000 fans are paying out up to €150,000 per year to individual players. Saint Patrick's Athletic FC, runners-up in 2007, have made seven new signings but their director of football, former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr, defended his club from charges that they were causing inflation in the market, saying: "There were lots of players where we said: 'No, they are out of our budget and we're not prepared to pay those wages.' We have invested quite heavily in the team but we've also been sensible about it."
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