Comment: All Island League has to be seriously considered

Derry City's Barry Molloy scores against Linfield during the 2012 Setanta Cup tie at the Brandywell.
Derry City's Barry Molloy scores against Linfield during the 2012 Setanta Cup tie at the Brandywell.

News emerged last week that a consortium led by Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid, along with ex-Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr, is having discussions concering a possible a new ‘All Island’ League and I, for one, think the idea is fantastic.

Yes, I know there are going to be complaints and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about how many European spots each association (FAI and IFA) would have; when the season would start and no doubt a host of other hurdles but I believe the long term future for both leagues would be positive if anything could be ironed out.

On this island, organising a meeting - let alone making a decision - normally takes a very, very, (Yes, very), long time but Mr Lucid and Co. have already been holding talks with a host of clubs, both north and south of the border, and while not everyone is happy about the idea (you’ll never keep everyone happy in this country!), no one has openly stated they aren’t up for the idea.

Another big player in this proposal taking off is UEFA and it too appears interested in hearing what both associations make of the proposal.

A UEFA spokesperson was reported in the national press as stating: “Domestic competitions are the foundation of football in Europe. Though transnational competitions have been mentioned in some cases, there are currently no concrete proposals on the table.

“Any such idea or proposal would only be discussed by UEFA if submitted by its national associations, with their clubs and leagues, as this could be a strategic development in some European regions.”

The plan is a 32-county, 14-team top tier with two 10-team regionalised leagues below with the Irish and FAI cup competitions continuing as normal.

Lucid says money for all the teams in top tier of the ‘All Island’ league would increase and hopes that TV companies and major sponsorship deals could also play a major role in helping both fund and promote the local game.

A host of former League of Ireland and Irish League players were in both the Republic and N Ireland international squads for their recent Euro qualify games.

Liam Boyce (Cliftonville), Gavin Whyte and Stuart Dallas (Crusaders) all started for Michael O’Neill’s side which came from behind to win in Estonia.

Mick McCarthy’s men had Seamus Coleman (Sligo Rovers), Enda Stevens (Shamrock Rovers) and James McClean (Derry City) all starting in their recent victory against Gibraltar.

Also in those respective squads, and in previous squads, were the likes of Ronan Curtis (Derry City), Mark Sykes (Glenavon) and Niall McGinn (Dungannon Swifts and Derry City) to name just three. How good would it be if players from an ‘All Island League’ could, in years to come, be named in both squads.

If the league took place in the summer, Sky would love to have live competitive footy to show when their Premier League is on a break and I believe attendances and atmosphere at games up and down the country would help provide decent viewing figures.

In my lifetime, I can only really remember Celtic and Rangers dominating things in Scotland. Yes, I know a young Sir Alex Ferguson took Aberdeen to glory and, even, in recent years, Hearts and Hibernian have won Scottish Cups, but deep down everyone knows that the SPL trophy will be either going to Parkhead or Ibrox over the next decade or so.

I believe an All Island League would be more competitive than the SPL and, in time, as a lot of clubs on both sides of the border go full-time, the standard - which is good at the minute - will get better.

Right now, Dundalk would probably start favourites to claim the first All Island League Premiership but in the not too distant future, the likes of Linfield, Crusaders, Derry City, Shamrock Rovers and Cliftonville would be challenging for the top prize.

You could add in big spending Larne and Glentoran if their take-over deal finally gets sorted .

As the for two regions leagues, this is where the new consortium need to make sure that neither league ends up like the current Bluefin Sport Championship and SSE Aitricity League First Division where established big clubs like Portadown and Shelbourne, who in years gone by were playing European football, get forgotten about.

The man behind the proposals for an All-Island League wants to know by the Autumn if clubs are on board and, having already been talking to quite a few clubs, I feel he and his group are entitled to a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’ decision from all sides.

Derry City Chief Executive Sean Barrett confirmed the Brandywell men will sit down with the group in the coming weeks.

“We haven’t, as a board, discussed it but, yes, the group who are involved have made contact with us and we’ll talk to them hopefully in the next seven to 10 days,” he explained.

“Mark Duffy, who is part of the group, has been in contact and, as I said, we plan to meet them soon. We would be keen to explore it because the Setanta Cup, from Derry City’s perspective, was a big success, so obviously we would be interested in having discussions and hearing their proposal.”

Barrett also confirmed that in the coming weeks and months, all League of Ireland clubs will have their say on the new proposal.

“It’s certainly worth exploring because within the league there’s chat about changes coming,” Barrett added.

“The PCA (Premier Clubs Association) is talking about doing different things so this ties in with what we are trying to do to, which is to basically try to improve the football family in the whole of Ireland.

“I’m sure we’ll meet up and probably have a chat about it as well to see what advantages or disadvantages there is for League of Ireland clubs and then take it from there.”

Vinny Perth, manager of League of Ireland champions, Dundalk, and Shamrock Rovers boss, Stephen Bradley, both believe the new All Island idea is worth exploring.

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey feels that Irish League clubs would need to get ‘a lot of guarantees’, but like everyone else he, too, feels it’s good to talk and try to get those guarantees.

I believe that to completely dismiss the idea would be wrong and serious discussions and decisions need to be made.

Fingers crossed this can happen in the corridors of football - unlike in places like Stormont and Dáil Éireann.