How does the Welsh Premier League and League of Ireland compare?
With the crucial 2018 World Cup qualifying match between the Republic of Ireland and Wales coming up on Friday night, how does the Welsh Premier League compare with the top division in Ireland, the League of Ireland.
First and foremost, a Welsh Premier League side is yet to achieve the acclaim of reaching an European group stage, unlike Ireland who have Dundalk to thank for their sojourns in Europe this season.
Despite losing 3-1 on aggregate to Legia Warsaw in the Champions League play-off round, Dundalk reached the Europa League group stages, and it has to be noted, they gave a good account of themselves. The Lilywhites finished bottom of the group, but managed one win and a draw in their group.
In their first match they gained a very respectful draw at Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar, before defeating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-0 at home, and although they lost every other game in the group they were hardly the whipping boys everyone expected them to be. The most they lost by was a single goal, and they were a credit to the League of Ireland throughout their time in Europe.
The aim now is for a Welsh Premier League team to replicate what Dundalk achieved in Europe, but that’s easier said than done. The New Saints did come close this summer, and despite giving Apoel Nicosia a stern test in the 0-0 home draw, they were defeated 3-0 in Cyprus.
TNS have once again won the Welsh Premier league this season – their sixth title in succession and a world record season after winning 27 games on the bounce, surpassing Ajax’s record which included a team of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, and Arie Haan but the Oswestry based side will now be looking to go one step further by reaching the group stage of a European tournament next summer.
But how do the two leagues compare in terms of attendances and format?
In the League of Ireland the average attendances for the 2016 season was 1,455 for the 12 teams combined, and to no surprise it was Dundalk who averaged the highest attendance in the league at 2,717. But, it was Cork City who had the highest crowd of the season – their attendance of 5,453 surpassing any other match. The team who averaged the lowest attendance was Longford Town with a crowd of 491.
The Welsh Premier League have struggled attendance wise, especially this season. The team who averages the highest average attendance in the Welsh Premier League is Bangor at 505, and it has to be noted the Bangor University Stadium has a capacity of 3,000. Compare that to the League of Ireland where the lowest average attendance is 491, which suggests there is a lot more interest in the League of Ireland. Even TNS struggle attendance wise with their average at Park Hall being at 268 in a 2,000 capacity stadium. Arguably the Welsh Premier’s second best outfit, Gap Connah’s Quay, average the lowest attendances in the division at a mere 231 in a 1,500 capacity Stadium, emphasising the gulf in support between the two leagues.
It is notable however that the Welsh Premier League suffers from the success of Welsh teams in the English system. With Swansea and Cardiff City both being Premier League outfits in recent years, the fans at Welsh Premier League grounds have be lured by the attraction f watching Premier League Football. In comparison, the fans in Ireland suffer from no such problem as the top Irishbteams play in Ireland.
The Welsh Premier League is made up of 12 teams, but there is a slightly different format to other leagues as is is composed of two phases. In the first phase of the league, everybody in the division plays each other twice, but halfway through the season it’s split. The top six play each other twice, as do the bottom six.
The Champions enter the Champions League qualifying rounds, and second place bag themselves a shot at Europa League qualification. However, 3rd place to 7th place fight it out in an European play-off to decide the final Europa League qualification spot.
The bottom two of the division are then relegated to their respective regional divisions; either the Huws Gray Alliance or the Welsh League Division One.
Like the Welsh Premier League the League of Ireland is made up of 12 teams, however the format is slightly different. The Champions, for instance it was Dundalk last season, go into the Champions League second qualifying round, and from second to fourth they go into the Europa League first qualifying round.
The relegation process is slightly different to the Welsh Premier League, though. The bottom placed side are relegated, but like in some other leagues the team who are second from bottom go into a relegation play-off against a team who are bidding for promotion from its feeder league. For example, last season Wexford Youths, who finished in 11th, played a play-off against Drogheda United, a game they ended up losing, so ultimately they were relegated to the League of Ireland First Division.
With many comparisons between the two divisions, it’ll be interesting to see whether Wales can replicate Ireland’s success any time soon.