Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Linfield and Cliftonville reject Setanta Cup invitation

Linfield celebrate winning the 2005 Setanta Cup, but they won't compete in the 2014 tournament

Irish League champions Cliftonville have sensationally turned down the opportunity to add the all-Ireland title to their silverware collection.

And they have been joined in declining an invitation to the 2014 Setanta Sports Cup by Linfield, the inaugural winners of the competition in 2005.

The Belfast rivals revealed their decisions almost simultaneously yesterday afternoon and those announcements came just a couple of hours before Setanta pledged to back the tournaments for another three years, with a £61,000 prize pot and £25,000 for the winners.

The Reds and Blues, who finished first and third in the Danske Bank Premiership last season, will be replaced by Coleraine and Ballinamallard – fifth and sixth respectively last season.

They will be joined by 2012 winners Crusaders and 2008 runners-up Glentoran.

St Patrick's Athletic, Dundalk Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers will represent the FAI in the draw, which will take place at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

An all-Ireland tournament without Linfield and the current Northern Ireland champions is, however, very much watered down is likely to have a negative impact on its public appeal

The Belfast Telegraph understands that neither club had expected to receive an invitation to the competition on the basis that, without a fresh financial backer, the eight-year-old tournament had looked dead in the water.

That was before Setanta performed a u-turn and decided to continue their sponsorship.

Barely a season has gone by in recent times without the Blues publicly contemplating pulling out of the all-Ireland cup and having learned that Cliftonville were considering their own future in the competition, the Windsor Park board held an impromptu meeting after the match between the teams at Solitude 10 days ago, with both clubs officially declining their respective invitations yesterday.

A brief statement from the Reds explained that "amid an already heavy footballing schedule which began with the Champions League in July, we have decided not to take up the invitation this season.

It went on to say: "We have enjoyed being part or the tournament in previous years and do not rule out our possible participation in the future."

Linfield, meanwhile, cited scheduling and financial considerations – as well as hinting at security concerns – in their own reasoning for not taking part.

"The scheduling of the Setanta Sports Cup games in the springtime when teams from Northern Ireland are approaching the closing stages of their domestic league and Irish Cup competitions tends to be less favourable to clubs in the Danske Bank Premiership and this club will always prioritise the League title as the prime target and focus in every season," said a statement.

"With a much reduced prize fund available to clubs competing in the Setanta Sports Cup and also taking into account the considerable difficulties faced by our supporters travelling to attend these games, the Linfield Board of Directors has, on this occasion, taken the decision not to enter the 2014 Setanta Sports Cup competition."

The tournament will begin in February, with quarter-final and semi-final ties played on a home and away basis before the final which will take place on Saturday May 10.

The FAI will host the final unless it involves two teams from Northern Ireland.

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