Let's not miss the boat on All Island League

The Setanta Cup facilitiated the first competitive meeting between Derry City and Linfield in 35 years when they met at Windsor Park in February 2006. A presentation is made to ex-Derry City captain Peter Hutton, left, and Linfield captain Noel Baille to mark the occasion. The teams could meet on a regular basis should All Island league proposals come to fruition.
The Setanta Cup facilitiated the first competitive meeting between Derry City and Linfield in 35 years when they met at Windsor Park in February 2006. A presentation is made to ex-Derry City captain Peter Hutton, left, and Linfield captain Noel Baille to mark the occasion. The teams could meet on a regular basis should All Island league proposals come to fruition.

THE EXCITING proposals to form an All-island League in Ireland is expected to gather momentum in the coming weeks and it will be interesting to discover which clubs are willing to put their necks on the line in favour of the revolutionary plans.

Kerry native, Kieran Lucid, the man behind the plan, will hold further face-to-face meetings with representatives from clubs north and south of the border in Dundalk on October 24th.

Lucid’s group is also expected to launch a series of promotional videos in the coming days, featuring prominent Irish League players, chairmen and supporters, expressing their support for the idea which, hopefully, will have a positive influence on the decision-makers.

When the proposals were first made public last June there appeared to be genuine interest and early soundings from clubs were positive as they dipped their toes in the water. However, with a November 3rd deadline set by the FAI for a final decision to be made, will clubs opt to take the plunge and fully embrace the idea?

While Linfield general manager, Pat Fenlon - who holds a privileged position in that he has been heavily involved in both leagues for quite some time - says the clubs should resist the ‘gun to the head approach by the FAI, the time to act is now!

Yes, more dialogue and planning is needed to iron out any doubts or question marks surrounding the proposals, potential pitfalls and governance issues in particular but it’s important that swift progress is made soon otherwise it will simply become a pipe-dream as normality resumes or an alternative new league format is delivered.

The proposed new All-island league will be a separate entity and stand-alone from both the FAI and IFA but where does this leave the two associations? Surely the new league must be governed by one or the other or perhaps the plan will be to amalgamate the two.

Initial information declared there would be no threat to the identities and independence of both associations. Mr Lucid explained when he first brought the plans to the table that the new league would be based along the lines of the English Premier League, duly licensed by both associations with clubs retaining their affiliations to their current governing body but will that will bring with it complications?

Former Republic of Ireland manager, Brian Kerr is behind Lucid’s plan and alongside, Fenlon they are two figures whose opinion should be taken seriously given they have the genuine interests of the game in Ireland at heart.

Fenlon insists Irish League powerhouse, Linfield is willing to listen to further talks but are not yet in a position to get fully behind the proposals. Understandably, it’s a difficult situation for clubs, sponsors and broadcasters to fully embrace given the league does not yet exist but that’s why it’s going to take a leap of faith if the All-island league dream is ever to be realised.

Fenlon, like all those who have seen the in-depth presentation from Lucid’s consortium, is confident the funding will be made available and the economics of it are a ‘no-brainer’ given the current financial plight of teams in both leagues. It’s understood the league has been offered a million-pound deal by at least one broadcasting company.

You would expect an All island League to be an easy sell on the marketing side of things and it’s understood UEFA are willing to support a reformation in Irish football if agreed it’s for the betterment of the game.

I just hope the recent meeting in Tallaght, where a new three tier League of Ireland proposal was discussed and proposed new TV rights for clubs, doesn’t scupper the All Island idea.

It does feel like the proposal is losing momentum and it’s now time for clubs to speak out and either back the idea or dismiss it altogether knowing there might never be a better opportunity for the ambitious plans to be realised.

There appears to be no dissenting voices from managers of clubs in the top flight of both the Dankse Bank Premiership and the Airtricity Premier Division but it's the clubs themselves, the chairmen, owners and those at Board level who need to make their opinions public to give us a realistic idea of where the proposals presently stand. Currently it's hard to gauge.

As Fenlon said in an interview in the ‘Journal’ last week, that we don’t ‘miss the boat’ on the premise of an All-island League. As the ex-Derry City boss reminded us, Platinum One’s bid to unify the two football associations on the island in 2008 failed due to a lack of support and if this latest one, which has lots more meat on the bones, also falls by the wayside then it’s difficult to see why a potential third proposal would work.

Derry City would, as Fenlon agreed, be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new league, geographically and logistically speaking. And given a gate against Linfield in the Setanta Cup remains the club’s highest in recent memory, the prospect of the Candy Stripes welcoming the Blues, the Glens, Crusaders et al to Foyleside is a mouthwatering prospect.

Rivalries in football are important and it means an awful lot for people to support their clubs. An All Island League would create new rivalries between clubs and that can only be a positive for the game.

It’s understandable the clubs have concerns about finance and any kind of significant change can be daunting. However, if it’s going to improve standards of football on the island, boast the coffers of the clubs with TV money and significant increases in prizemoney which are to be comparable to the money earned by European qualification, then it simply makes sense to take a calculated risk now.

Let’s hope the clubs get a clearer idea of what’s on offer during that meeting in Dundalk and hopefully we will see a bright brand new vision for football in Ireland come to fruition.