Football in Ireland has a rich history dating back to the 19th century. Belfast merchant John M McAlery first introduced the game in 1878, having discovered it during a trip to Edinburgh in Scotland.
Sometime later on 1 June 1921, the Football Association of Ireland was formally established in Dublin. In 1923, the 'home' countries England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recognised the new association in the south following pressure from FIFA. At that time, the words 'Free State' were added to the official title.
Although a team representing the south was entered for the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, it was not until March 1926 that the new body was involved in its first full international, a 3-0 defeat by Italy in Turin. The team played its first FIFA World Cup qualifying game in February 1934, drawing 4-4 against Belgium at Dublin's Dalymount Park.
The Republic of Ireland had never qualified for a major tournament until the 1988 UEFA European Championship under Jack Charlton, where they famously beat England 1-0, and then reached three out of the next four World Cups. Their pinnacle was a quarter-final appearance in Italy in 1990, when they lost by a single goal to the hosts in Rome. At the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, the Irish produced some scintillating displays, only denied a last-eight place by a penalty shoot-out defeat by Spain.
On the domestic front, the league championship and Irish Cup were first staged in 1921/22 and resulted in a double triumph for St James's Gate FC. The inaugural league season involved eight clubs and it was only in 1985/86 that a two-divisional structure was introduced.
Shamrock Rovers FC entered the league in its second year and won the title at the first attempt. The Hoops, as they are affectionately known, are Ireland's most successful team with 15 championships and 24 Irish Cups, both records. In recent times, the league has been dominated by Shelbourne FC and Bohemian FC, before Shamrock Rovers regained the title in 2010; their first in 16 years.
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The UEFA Europa League comprises three qualifying rounds, a play-off round, a group stage and five knockout rounds.
In matches in the three qualifying rounds and the play-offs, clubs play two matches against each other on a home-and-away basis. The club which scores the greater aggregate of goals qualifies for the next round, with away goals and then penalties used to determine the winner in the event of a draw.
The 38 play-off round winners join the ten losers from the UEFA Champions League play-offs. The clubs are split into 12 groups of four teams, playing home and away against each of their pool opponents between September and December. Two sides from each section advance, proceeding into the round of 32 alongside eight third-placed teams from the UEFA Champions League group stage.
From the last 32 until the semi-finals, clubs play two games against each other on a home-and-away basis with the same rules as the qualifying and play-off rounds applied. In the last 32, group winners and the four third-placed sides from the UEFA Champions League with the best records are seeded, guaranteeing they will play the second leg at home. Teams from the same group or the same association cannot be drawn together. From the round of 16 onwards the draw is free.
The final is decided by a single match, which this season will be played in Dublin on Wednesday 18 May.
Further details, including the criteria for separating teams that finish level on points in a group, can be found in the official competition regulations.