This year’s Unite the Union Champions’ Cup has been called off due to scheduling issues that have arisen due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tournament, which would have involved Linfield and Coleraine from the Danske Bank Premiership and St Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers from the SSE Airtricity Premier Division was due to be played last year.
However, due to Covid-19, those semi-finals – which would have been played between the two clubs from the same league – were postponed, leaving organisers hopeful they could get the fixtures in after the end of the Irish League campaign.
But due to Coleraine being involved in the end of season European play-offs and with the Premier Division season in full swing, finding dates to fill in the fixtures proved to be impossible.
That left the three bodies in charge of the competition – Unite the Union, the IFA and FAI – no choice but to call off this year's tournament, with the intention of reviving it for next season.
This was due to be the second edition of the tournament, which was first run in 2019 when Linfield and Dundalk contested a two-legged final, with it being expanded to include two more teams for 2021.
Despite the matches being cancelled, cross-border initiatives to celebrate diversity, promote equality and build community will still continue, with Unite The Union providing funding of £50,000 which goes directly into communities and schools in the local areas of the teams involved.
“Whilst we are disappointed that the tournament couldn’t be concluded, we do acknowledge the pressures on clubs, players and staff coupled with the split seasons and the difficulties this brings when trying to organise a competition of this nature,” said Unite The Union deputy regional secretary Davy Thompson.
"Covid is something that no one could have envisaged as we entered into this project and has played a significant part in this outcome. We will continue to work closely with both associations and the clubs to advance our community activities which were at the core of this competition.”
Albert Hewitt, Unite community co-ordinator highlighted the successes of the community liaison with clubs in Northern Ireland, explaining: “We have set up a no ties foodbank and formal collections for food banks on match days involving Unite Community members in partnership with the leading teams.
"Players from both Linfield and Coleraine are visiting schools in deprived areas as part of a Unite-sponsored computer skills education programme. The work between ourselves and the clubs are having a real impact – they will continue and we hope to expand them in the coming period.”
Irish FA president Conrad Kirkwood commented: “We will continue to work with our partners on this and other ventures that place an important value on community as central to our game.”