Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Sky really is the limit for Irish League boys

Steven Beacom
Steven Beacom

History will be made tonight at Solitude. A few eyebrows were raised when the north Belfast ground was chosen to host the first live Irish League game on Sky Sports but, believe me, commentator Rob Hawthorne and his expert summariser Gerry Armstrong won't get a warmer welcome anywhere in the UK than from Gerard Lawlor and the rest of the Cliftonville board.

And let's face it, bar a Big Two derby, Sky couldn't start their coverage with a better match than Cliftonville v Linfield.

BBC Northern Ireland were up in arms when Sky clinched a £10 million deal to screen Northern Ireland home games for four years.

The Beeb were miffed with the IFA for the way negotiations were conducted but hey, this is the 21st century and money talks.

And fair play to Sky for throwing in a sweetener - live Irish League matches.

What a boost for the local game.

To many people, Irish League football is a bit of a joke.

My message to them would be don't knock it till you've tried it.

Obviously it lacks the quality of football at the highest level in England and Scotland, but it still has much to offer.

For starters it is the best football you are going to see in the flesh without jumping on a plane and with it can come some great goals, brilliant saves and thrilling matches.

It also has some wonderful personalities. Since Roy McCreadie - the Jose Mourinho of the Irish League - left, it has lost some colour, but Linfield's David Jeffrey, Glentoran's Alan McDonald, Portadown's Ronnie McFall, Coleraine's Marty Quinn and Cliftonville's Eddie Patterson are all managers who can be highly entertaining in post match briefings.

Goodness knows what Jeffrey and Patterson - not exactly shrinking violets - will have to say on screen tonight if there is any controversy or poor refereeing decisions.

The live TV will add an extra dimension for the managers, but I'm more pleased for the Irish League players than anyone else that the Sky cameras will be trained on them.

Not just fantastic stalwarts like Linfield duo Glenn Ferguson and Noel Bailie, set for a few last moments in the sun, or Glentoran heroes Paul Leeman and Colin Nixon, but for the gifted youngsters in the league, who now have a terrific chance to show managers and agents across the water what they can do.

Linfield's Michael Gault, Glentoran's Daryl Fordyce, Newry City's Richard Clarke and Dungannon's Mark McAllister could certainly impress.

The Sky truly is the limit for boys like this.

Linfield's Alan Mannus and Peter Thompson have been mentioned in the past about a cross channel move. Here is their opportunity to once again generate some interest and while a little older, I've always thought Glentoran's Gary Hamilton and Portadown's Michael Collins could make it, although they themselves would tell you their time has gone.

For Sky and the Irish League the time is nigh. Or 7.45pm this evening to be precise. Here's hoping Cliftonville and Linfield put on a show.

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