By Ed Leahy

Cabinteely begin life as a League of Ireland club tonight as they take on Wexford Youths in the SSE Airtricity League First Division clash at Stradbrook.

And while the footballing fraternity has extended obligatory courtesies and well-wishes to the new side from south Dublin, it is fair to say that there is a lot of disbelief and scepticism surrounding their shock inclusion in this year’s competition.

Shamrock Rovers’ short-lived experiment to host a B team in the league’s First Division resulted in a space becoming available, and the FAI had to fill it quickly to prevent the much-maligned second tier of Irish football descending into a farcical seven-team league.

Just weeks before the start of the new season, rumours started circulating about Cabinteely’s application for a licence and of an agreement with Blackrock Rugby Club to ground-share at their Stradbrook venue, which forced the FAI to come out and admit that the club had applied to fill the vacant slot.

Within days, the rumour became reality as Cabinteely were awarded a First Division licence, the application was ratified and the fixture list was announced with the new club sitting side-by-side with established stalwarts of the league, Finn Harps, Athlone Town, Cobh Ramblers Waterford and Shelbourne.

Who are Cabinteely FC?
Primarily a schoolboy club, Cabinteely boasts an impressive 53 teams with over 1000 members and the club have apparently being developing the schoolboy structures over the past few years with a pathway to the senior league in mind.

As mentioned, Cabinteely will play at Blackrock Rugby ground Stradbrook and will be managed by League of Ireland veteran Eddie Gormley, who will work with a very young squad of up-and-coming players and others with some, if limited, League of Ireland experience.

The club said recently that they never set out to become a League of Ireland side but had been working on their plan over the past 12 months, while the FAI have stated that they were very impressed by the business plan and the ethos of the club.

Aims and Goals
The club have maintained that they are starting out on an amateur basis, will live within their means and have no set timetable to play in the Premier Division.

They have the added benefit of having no debt and they have no plans to build a ground of their own.

The schoolboy structures that the FAI are putting in place are something that obviously attracted Cabinteely to League of Ireland football as there should be a national Under-15 and Under-17 league in the coming years to complement the ongoing Under-19 league, which should prove a big attraction and benefit to their schoolboy structure.

Can they survive?
The short answer is yes. Cabinteely will be supported fully by the FAI as they look to settle into league football, while there is no relegation from the First Division so as long as they have their off-field affairs up to date and in order, there is no reason why they cannot remain a league club.

The appointment of Eddie Gormley was a shrewd bit of business as they have a man with connections to the club (Gormley’s son plays for the schoolboy side) as well as a man with an in-depth knowledge of how the league works and what a club needs to survive.

Gormley also has a good track record of working with young players and has brought through many players who are currently thriving at other clubs like Dane Massey, Chris Shields, Gary McCabe and Derek Foran.

Progressive thinking or Vanity project?
There is no answer to this one, but rather something that the club, the FAI and the League of Ireland family will get to witness over the coming months and, potentially, years as Cabinteely venture into uncharted waters.

Entering a new club into a league that is not really in a great place could be equated to opening a new business in a recession. It may be a stroke of genius but can just as easily fall flat on its face.

But some of the decisions that Cabinteely have made would imply that there is some a method behind their decisions, with the managerial appointment, the FAI’s backing and the rugby connection all signs that Cabinteely want to establish themselves as a major player in Irish football.

Their schoolboy set-up will, no doubt, benefit from their League of Ireland status, attracting better young players to the club and English club scouts will also be more likely to pay attention to their best prospects.

The Blackrock Rugby partnership might also suggest that Cabinteely are not looking at other League of Ireland clubs on how to thrive as a football club but perhaps are following the Leinster Rugby model, which has developed over the past decade into one of Irish sport's greatest success stories.

The catchment area of Dun Laoghaire and south Dublin is huge and perhaps an eventual ground-share with Leinster might be something that the club’s owners envisage further down the line.

But there is a lot of expense involved when it comes to running a League of Ireland club and the First Division is called the "Discover Ireland" league for a reason, as Cabinteely will cover the length and breath of the country from Ballyboffey to Cobh, twice, which will prove very taxing on an amateur team.

Then there is the possibility that the first team will drain the club’s resources and the schoolboy section could suffer as a result.

Throw in three more Cabinteely teams competing on a national level and watch the bank balance take a major hit for a new club with few established fans or major sponsors to help ease the burden.

Most big schoolboy clubs have strong fundraising initiatives in place but parents will become wary and disillusioned if they feel their money is just going into the first team.

Reality Check
I'm sure that the owners and the Cabinteely board have done the maths and made their projections for the year ahead but there will be many unforeseen expenses that will occur once the season gets up and running.

The team may be amateur in name, but Gormley, you would imagine, will demand the proper facilities and processes are put in place for the first team, whether organising pre and post-match food for players, comfortable coach travel and other player expenses.

An amateur team are also going to bring more problems when it comes to availability for midweek matches or cup replays away from home with work and family commitments to be negotiated.

The Verdict
Any new initiative in Irish football needs to be given every chance to succeed and it is hard not to admire a club with ambitions to compete at the highest level.

But there is good reason for the scepticism, as League of Ireland stalwarts have seen this all before with the arrival and demise of Dublin City and Sporting Fingal, clubs who tried to take on the established capital sides but ultimately failed and faded out of existence.

The FAI will be determined to ensure that Cabinteely are still here in five years’ time, as they have come under fire for not trying to entice another regional team into the League of Ireland, with Mayo, Kerry and Tipperary just three of the places that could actually have created something new and exciting.

Cabinteely’s most important match is their next one and their opener against Wexford Youths will be a great day for the League’s newest club.

Let’s just hope they know what they are letting themselves in for.