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Irish League football scores a hit under the Sky at night

By Linda McKee

Former Irish FA president Jim Boyce last night hailed Sky Sport's first live broadcast of an Irish League match as a tremendous success.

Mr Boyce, now the honorary lifetime president of the Association, said the historic screening of the Carnegie League clash between Cliftonville and Linfield was a massive step forward for Irish League football.

The floodlit curtain-raiser between the two Belfast clubs at Solitude on Monday night was the first ever Irish League match broadcast on Sky Sport as part of a £10m-plus deal agreed with the IFA earlier this year.

The general view was that the game, which ended 2-2, was a great advert for the local game - despite some unwelcome instances of sectarian chanting from the terraces.

Sky's lighting engineers even transformed the north Belfast skyline for the night, rigging up their own powerful floodlights at a cost of around £14,000 to give the ground's existing illumination an extra boost.

Mr Boyce, a former chairman of Cliftonville, was delighted with how everything went.

"It was a tremendous night for Irish League football," he said last night.

"It wasn't so long ago that Linfield came back to play matches at Solitude following a 27-year gap (for security reasons), and this is another historical occasion for both of these great clubs.

"I was delighted that this has happened and I hope there will be many more of them. I think the whole night was a superb occasion."

The match itself had Reds and Blues fans on the edge of their seats, but league champions Linfield were disappointed to finish with a draw instead of the win they craved.

The IFA's head of community relations, Michael Boyd, later praised both clubs for their efforts to eradicate sectarianism from the game.

"Before the match on Monday night both clubs worked in partnership to ensure a strong anti-sectarian message was communicated to the crowd when both their women's teams paraded anti-sectarian banners on the pitch," he said.

"Having worked closely with both clubs recently I know how committed they are to eradicating sectarianism and the full implementation of UEFA's ten point plan to help create a more inclusive atmosphere at games.

"I feel it is important people recognise the real and meaningful progress both clubs are making.

"In particular I would like to pick out two people for special praise, Linfield's Andrew Conn and Cliftonville's Gerard Lawlor.

"These two men have a great working relationship and have taken a lead at their clubs with regards to promoting positive community relations."

The coverage by Sky was a key part of the broadcasting giant's capture of the rights to screen Northern Ireland's international games.

Sky's tasty dish: see sport, page 59

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