Belfast Telegraph

Apathy buries All-Ireland football vision the troubles couldn't kill

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

With Jim Gracey

The battle of Dundalk provided my introduction to the notion of club football on this island as an All-Ireland entity.

Played against the backdrop of the Warrenpoint massacre of 18 soldiers and the Mountbatten murders two days earlier on August bank holiday Monday 1979, the timing of Linfield's European Cup preliminary round trip to the border town could not have been worse. Nor could the foreseen riot.

Having witnessed a fair few in the bad old days of football reporting, this one remains off the scale. The return leg was played in Holland and all-Ireland club football was deemed beyond salvation.

Yet, as the Troubles continued, so, too, did valiant efforts to revive the patient with notable, though, sporadic success, including the hopeful Tyler Cup and a trouble-free European trip by Linfield to Shamrock Rovers in 1984.

And with the peace came the Setanta Cup, initially embraced with enthusiasm north and south for the money and opportunties it offered. Outbreaks of aggro were mercifully rare and wins by Linfield and Crusaders appeared to signal a knock-on rise in standards in the Irish League.

But the novelty soon wore off for the fans and the clubs and when earlier this month Crusaders had to appeal on Twitter and Facebook for someone with a car to drive players to Sligo, you knew the game was up. There's a semi-final tonight, but who knows?

Sad really. Setanta tried their best, but the will that existed in the worst of times has wilted in better days and the over-flogged dead horse is bound for the knacker's yard after this season.

How ironic that an all-Ireland vision the Troubles couldn't kill has now perished from apathy in the peace.

Belfast Telegraph


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