Fixtures row threatens Setanta Cup as draw is postponed
Fresh doubt has been cast on the future of the Setanta Cup after the draw for this year's tournament was postponed following a fixtures row.
The launch of the competition was to be held in the FAI HQ in Abbotstown, Dublin today but scheduling concerns mean it can't go ahead.
Danske Bank Premiership sides Portadown, Glenavon, Crusaders and Glentoran were set to be pitted into battle with Airtricity Premier League clubs Dundalk, St Patrick's Athletic, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers with the matches being played over the summer. Linfield withdrew from the previous competition along with Cliftonville and the Blues still see little value in the tournament but organisers were hoping it could be up and running again in June.
There is an understandable reluctance on the part of Irish League clubs to travel long distances on Monday nights or for midweek fixtures.
Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer says his side could be facing a trip to Cork City on Monday, June 22 when Saturday, June 20 would be a much more desirable date for the club.
Teer explained: "We are happy to take part in what would be our first Setanta Cup, but the whole competition seems to be totally geared towards the League of Ireland clubs.
"We have been in contact with the IFA by email and explained that a midweek game at Cork would not suit us and in the case of us getting that draw we would play the game on the Saturday. If they cannot meet this request then we may have to withdraw."
Winners of the competition stand to gain €30,000 (£22,327) and the runners-up will scoop €15,000, while the remaining participants will receive €4,000 each. A subsidy of €1,000 will be paid to the away team in the Cork City fixture to assist with travel costs.
This scheduling issue is the latest blow to strike an all-Ireland tournament which has been dogged by controversy and criticism since it kicked off 10 years ago. When Linfield and Cliftonville withdrew from the competition in December 2013, it was a significant setback for organisers with the Blues, inaugural winners in 2005, saying reduced prize money and scheduling of matches led to their decision.
The Blues have also been dealt several security headaches over the years with supporter safety an absolute priority.
Then Premiership champions Cliftonville said their busy fixture list had prompted their withdrawal.
A Linfield statement read: "After very careful consideration and discussions, Linfield Football Club have decided not to enter the planned Setanta Sports Cup competition, on this occasion. This club's players will only be beginning their return to pre-season training on June 16, after a well-earned close-season break.
"With the first of these Setanta Cup games scheduled to commence on June 20, this club is of the view that it would be too difficult in such a short period for players to reach the required level and condition of match-fitness, so soon after returning to pre-season training, to enable them to take part in a major competitive game against a leading team from the Republic of Ireland that will be in full-flow, in the middle of their domestic season.
"This club fully appreciates and understands the enormous difficulties the organisers face in finding suitable fixture dates, given the different and 'cross over' seasons that both football associations on this island operate in and, as proud inaugural winners, we would of course wish the organisers and participating teams every success with this year's competition."
Setanta Sports' sponsorship deal runs out in 2016 and it now appears that the organisers have a battle on their hands keeping the cross-border tournament alive.