The concept of an All-Island football league between the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland is something that’s been discussed within the League of Ireland community for a substantial amount of time now.
A proposal spearheaded by Kerry businessman, Kieran Lucid, his Advocacy Group and Dutch consultant company, Hypercube seemed to gain serious traction at the beginning of 2020. Despite first coming to public knowledge three-years before that.
The watered-down ‘Scenario Four’ received a majority of clubs’ support.
This would see a 12-team League of Ireland Premier Division, and 10-team Northern Ireland Football League play two round of fixtures each.
They would then split. The top eight from the Republic of Ireland, and top six from Northern Ireland would enter ‘golden rounds’, with their points already earned carrying over.
Those 14 teams would enter into a cross-border series, which would continue for a further two rounds of fixtures. The points acquired throughout these ties would decide independent domestic titles, European places. Plus, would count towards a knockout ‘King of the Island’ competition.
So, with that brief, and somewhat complicated refresher out of the way. Where are we at with this All-Island league situation?
Well, the project is in limbo.
This is in no small part to factors such as, Brexit, and more importantly, the pandemic.
Lucid blamed the latter for the All-Island plans being put on ice. But he feels Covid-19 could serve as a reminder to the delicate financial nature of professional football in Ireland.
During a recent interview with SunSport, Lucid said “Smaller leagues are getting left behind and the consolidation of leagues is the future of European football.
“The only way we will have compelling competitions is by having a critical mass.
“We think it is a matter of when rather than if cross-border competitions happen.
“Covid may have changed the timelines and might urge people to be more radical and not complacent.”
The Ballyheigue native has been a man on a mission with his proposed creation, and seems as optimistic as ever.
When the report was first published, following a lengthy and detailed consultation process by Hypercube. Many clubs were intrigued by the larger suggested financial figures for prize money.
Especially in the Republic, where the idea has always been more accepted. All ten League of Ireland Premier Division outfits are said to have written to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) in support with commencing talks with UEFA.
However, without the backing of the Irish FA, it’s extremely difficult to see the project getting off the ground.
Speculation suggests that opposition from the Irish Football Association has softened since their initial push-back.
Previously, it’s believed ten of the 12 Northern Ireland Premiership clubs have written to their respective association in favour of holding talks with UEFA. With Cliftonville and Dungannon Swifts believed to be the clubs that didn’t join their other counterparts.
The Big Kick Off understands both clubs have changed their position on the matter. The same can’t be said for the decision makers within the Irish FA.
As recently as November 2021, President of the Irish Football Association, Conrad Kirkwood has strongly distanced his association from a potential All-Ireland league, saying “The IFA’s position on the prospect of an All-Ireland League has been clear and unwavering. We have confirmed that it will not sanction any of our member clubs to take part in an all-island (All-Ireland) Football League,”
FAI Chief Executive, Johnathan Hill has also recently referenced his experiences with revamping the Eredivisie in Holland, and the Scottish Premiership during his tenure with IMG.
A former English FA colleague of Hill’s, Alex Horne is a member of Kieran Lucid’s Advocacy Group. As is former Ireland manager, Brian Kerr.
Put On The Long Finger?
Ultimately, it will be down to the clubs, the two associations, and UEFA.
The latter are occupied with small tasks like their Champions League re-structure. And Covid taking up the agenda of both the FAI and IFA. We may see the prospect of an All-Ireland league remain in limbo for a significant amount of time.
But, with domestic football on the island of Ireland thriving this season in terms of attendance figures, and improved standard of play. Perhaps, it’s time for the League of Ireland to look inwards, and addressing the cracks of the lack consistent marketing and promotion.
Along, with the desperate state of our football system. With not just adding the expected third tier, but Provincial leagues for both senior and junior football. Providing a clear pathway in our footballing structure.
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