Linfield and Crusaders seize Scottish Challenge Cup chance
Crusaders and Linfield have both warmly welcomed the opportunity to compete in the Scottish Challenge Cup next season.
The tournament has been given a radical shake-up and the Crues and Blues are thrilled to join the party.
As the top two finishers in last season's Danske Bank Premiership, the two Belfast clubs have been invited to join the tournament when it reaches its fourth round in October and the Northern Ireland Football League have given the plan the green light.
The draw will be conducted in such a way to ensure that one of the sides will have a home tie in the fourth round.
It will also be regionalised to guarantee the two Northern Ireland sides cannot meet until the quarter-finals.
Crusaders chairman Stephen Bell said: "This is another great chance to show the wider football audience how far Northern Ireland football has come.
"The chance to play our Scottish counterparts and possibly Welsh counterparts in later rounds will only put our clubs on the map and with television coverage also included it will make it easier again.
"Congratulations to everyone for making this competition happen and Crusaders Football Club look forward to being part of it."
The competition could offer some of the Irish League's top talents a better chance of cross-channel moves.
In addition to Crusaders and Linfield, the top two Welsh Premiership finishers from last season — The New Saints and Bala Town — will also enter at the fourth round stage.
Scottish Premiership sides have also been invited to enter their Under-20 teams, which will be the only way Rangers can regain their title after their promotion last season.
Andrew Johnston, the Managing Director of NIFL, said: “I have no doubt that it will prove a success. It will provide a different kind of challenge, and it is a great opportunity to showcase the product on offer in the NIFL to a wider audience.”
In a statement on their club website, Linfield said they were “delighted to accept an invitation to take part in the Challenge Cup next season”.
The tournament was contested in previous years by lower Scottish League teams and one representative apiece from the Highland and Lowland Leagues, however this will rise to four each. These additions to the Challenge Cup bring the number of sides featuring in the tournament from 30 to 54.
The new format, which was devised by the SPFL board, will see the action take place over seven rounds, mostly during international breaks.
In addition to the new format, the SPFL also announced they had signed new broadcasting deals with Premier Sports in Northern Ireland and S4C in Wales to show select games live alongside BBC ALBA.