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John Delaney | "I'm very positive about the League of Ireland"

FAI CEO John Delaney claims he is "very positive" about the League of Ireland, and feels the FAI "can bring the league to the next step." Delaney pointed to rising attendances as proof of the growing interest in Ireland's top flight, and also praised the improvements in infrastructure and academies. "I'm very positive about the League of Ireland," he claimed at the launch of the Football For All Strategic Plan. "I think that collectively as a group of partners, we can bring the league to the next step. I've no doubt about that. "Attendance are up 48, 49% in the league, which shows that there is a growing interest in the league. "People have a far better knowledge of what’s happening in the League of Ireland. The progress of Dundalk created this Irish club in Europe, which everybody was following." "Infrastructure is important with the stadiums and we've seen some notable improvements there. There's some way to go, we know that. "Academy structures are very important. If you look at some examples, like Cork City at Glanmire, Roadstone (Shamrock Rovers' academy), they're the type of examples that you can replicate across the line. "The underage development with the 19s, 17s, 15s and 13s. Community involvement is hugely important as well. So it's range of those four or five pillars. "The league is getting to a better place and there is a next step for it to take. But those steps won't be taken by the FAI on its own or the clubs on their own. "It won't be done without government funding and UEFA funding. It won't be done without television deals or sponsorship. It needs a collective approach." However, Delaney also admitted that the Bray Wanderers saga had a negative impact on the division's reputation. The SSE Airtricity League club's apparent financial difficulties caused controversy earlier this season, at a time when Wanderers were flying high in third position in the table. Athlone Town were also rocked by scandal, and are currently being investigated over allegations of match-fixing and irregular betting patterns. "There's always going to be, in any league in Europe, some setbacks, some negatives, in semi-professional or professional football," Delaney added. "In Bray's case, it was based on a contribution from an investor or a benefactor. When that person says 'I don't have any more funds' then there's a problem. "Now it got magnified and got a lot of attention. Was it damaging for the league? Of course it was. It wasn't something you'd be saying you want to read on a Monday morning. "Bray was a setback which ultimately got settled. There's a history sometimes in some of the so-called crises around the clubs that they become big stories for a while and then, in many cases, they get resolved. Which Bray thankfully did." Delaney also revealed that he is unsure as of yet whether the 2018 World Cup play-offs will be seeded. The top team from each qualifying group will automatically qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the eight best runners-up will enter the play-offs from the nine groups. Finally, he stated that contract negotiations with Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane won't take place until after September's Group D qualifiers against Georgia and Moldova, but expressed his satisfaction with the managerial team. "We've got two big matches coming up. I said the last day there's a lot of trust between the management and the association, that's there, it's a good relationship. "I know they are standard lines but let's just all focus on Tbilisi and Serbia at home and take it from there." "The relationship you have with the manager is really important and it's a results business as well. "The public are very warm to the appointment, we've sold 15,500 season tickets so the public like the team, like the management and at the moment things are good."

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