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All-Island League backers propose split-season format to crown 'King of the Island'

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Linfield and Dundalk met last year in a cross-border tie that could become a more regular occurrence.

Linfield and Dundalk met last year in a cross-border tie that could become a more regular occurrence.

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Linfield and Dundalk met last year in a cross-border tie that could become a more regular occurrence.

The backers of the proposed All-Island League have decided on the proposed format for the initiative which would see all-island champions crowned via a knockout competition.

This event would take place at the end of a split season where the League of Ireland and Irish League would retain independence by declaring their own champions.

But they have conceded that the Covid-19 crisis could impact on the financial projections and sponsorship potential that was used to sell the project.

Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid has driven the plan to merge the leagues north and south and he has been involved in a lengthy consultation with clubs that was then guided by Dutch experts Hybercube and their assessment of data provided to them.

He met with stronger opposition north of the border where the IFA indicated they would not sanction the participation of their clubs, yet that was not enough of an obstacle to prevent further discussions ahead of the global shutdown of football.

Hypercube have completed the study that they were commissioned to do and have dispersed their findings to clubs.

The concept would require the two associations to come together and form a new company that would govern the project with UEFA support.

Lucid's team say they do not know how UEFA will respond until they are asked.

In an information statement for clubs, they say: "UEFA will not respond to half ideas or conjecture - only to a detailed proposal via the two associations.

"The study has shown that there is large upward potential for the game on the island, and this format would give the game a significant lift.

"What we do know for a fact is that UEFA’s Executive Committee decided in its meeting in March 2012 in Istanbul to “offer to interested associations upon request to study supra-national possibilities” and to allow test pilots on a case-by-case basis.

"In other words: the door is open."

Before they can reach that stage, they need a football structure to be approved by prospective participants.

After pitching a variety of scenarios which included a fully-merged cross border season and alternative versions, they have reported that one particular scenario was the clear winner in the Hypercube survey of the clubs.

In this idea - entitled Scenario 4 - the two Premier Divisions north and south would each have 12 teams in their respective top divisions and play out two rounds of fixtures within their own jurisdiction (22 games in total).

At that juncture, the top six teams in the Irish League and the top eight sides in the League of Ireland would go into a new 14-team league called the 'Golden Round.'

The bottom six in the Irish League, the bottom four in the League of Ireland and the top two in the League of Ireland First Division would enter a 'Silver Round' which would settle relegation issues.

They would play one round of games - 13 fixtures each - with the points accrued going towards a new 'King of the Island' table (a working title at this stage and not confirmed) and also added to the existing points tallies in their own leagues.

This would therefore lead to domestic champions and runners-up being crowned for the purpose of maintaining the current number of European participants - thus offering a solution to a major source of opposition which would be the loss of UEFA revenue.

Meanwhile, the top four teams to secure the most points in the 'King of the Island' standings would go straight into the quarter finals of all the overall competition.

They would be joined there by four teams to emerge from clashes between the next six clubs down and the top two 'Silver Round' performers.

Ultimately, this knockout phase would result in one team being crowned as the champions of the island.

The backers of the All-Island league say the next step is for the clubs to formally request that the idea is sanctioned by the associations north and south and UEFA.

They would then go to market and seek broadcasters, sponsors and public funding.

Hypercube say that improved prize money, the retention of UEFA solidarity money, and opportunities to access cross border peace funds should be an incentive to clubs further down the ladder who are concerned they will be second class citizens within this new world.

They say the clubs would have the freedom to determine how funds are divided out between 'Golden Round' and 'Silver Round' performers in terms of levelling the playing field.

In a statement to clubs, the All-Island League backers say that conversations with politicians and civil servants have been 'positive across the board', reaching the conclusion that 'this is an exciting project that would be a strong contender for government support due to its sporting, economic & social potential.'

A league season starting in late spring/early summer and finishing around New Year's Day is the most popular option.

The coronavirus stoppage has naturally halted the timeline targets which was geared towards a 2021 kick-off.

"There can be no doubt that the financial projections made in the study will be negatively impacted, at least in the near term," says the statement.

"As the situation is still evolving daily, what is more difficult to estimate is the scale of the impact. It is reasonable to expect that match day income, which forms a higher percentage of clubs' income here than in the larger leagues around Europe, will be depressed for some time, and it is likely to have a dampening effect on sponsorship opportunities over the coming 6-12 months.

"These are headwinds that all of football must face, but this does not change the fact that 'Scenario 4' presents a more compelling sporting and financial proposition than the current formats, and this will remain so in a post-Coronavirus climate.

"Moreover, given that the projections are based on a five to ten year horizon, there is every reason to start planning now for the long term health of the game, and to be hopeful for when restrictions are lifted."

Lucid was unavailable for comment.

Independent.ie