Belfast Telegraph

Irish League teams aren't ready to battle with southern rivals, says Glentoran striker

Hold fire: Robbie McDaid feels the timing isn’t right for an all-island league
Hold fire: Robbie McDaid feels the timing isn’t right for an all-island league

By Graham Luney

Glentoran striker Robbie McDaid says the timing isn't right for an All-Island League.

Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid's idea is to bring the Irish League and League of Ireland together in a new structure combining clubs from both - a 14-team top tier and two 10-team regionalised leagues in time for the 2021 season.

Lucid and his team gave presentations on their plans at a meeting in Dundalk last night, including details on prize money, a potential lucrative television deal and sponsorship packages.

But McDaid, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, is not convinced that NI Football League teams are ready to mix it with our full-time neighbours in the south.

"I think it's difficult because if you look at the top six teams of both leagues, there is probably still a fair bit of distance between the two," argued the former Leeds United striker.

"They have been full-time for a number of years while our clubs are transitioning into that mentality.

"I still think the northern clubs are six or seven years away from reaching their level, making it a level playing field.

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"It's all well and good saying the money is great, but it's not so great if you are travelling to the other end of the island and losing every week.

"Supporters will stop coming and will it be sustainable?

"You'd hate to try it and then revert back to what we have now in five years' time.

"I think the Irish League is progressing, but it's still a number of years behind from a full-time perspective. I can understand the southern sides' desire to be involved, but teams like Cliftonville, Ballymena United, even ourselves could lose out on European money.

"Full-time football is a big commitment for players, and probably the next generation of players might reap the benefits of that.

"But it's a big step that would see players abandon their careers and rely on a football income which isn't going to last for long in their lives.

"The way full-time works in the Irish League and at our club is that it suits some players better than others.

"It's about striking the right balance and what's best for the clubs and for each player."

The Glens have started to introduce a full-time culture and there is fresh optimism and hope that Mick McDermott's side can start rattling the cages of the league's strongest sides.

A takeover by Ali Pour's consortium has seen the squad get bigger and stronger, with the long suffering fans keen to savour better days.

"There's a bit of a buzz around the place again and that comes with results," added McDaid.

"In the time I've been here, we have started seasons well and dropped off after October, so it's important going into the Christmas period that we keep our form good and find some consistency.

"Over the last two years we've had a good 11 but the squad depth could have been stronger.

"Now we have good options, hungry players and boys who can come on and make a big difference.

"Players are fighting for a place in the team and keen to impress when that chance comes.

"We aren't looking around the top of the table. I think the best approach is to look at the game in front of us.

"Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey spoke a lot last season about taking one game at a time and I believe that it can work for us too.

"Teams are closely bunched in the league and you can't look further than your next tough challenge."

The fifth-placed Glens host Ballymena United tonight and victory would see them move seven points ahead of the Sky Blues, who have played a game less.

"Ballymena are always hard to beat, and you just have to look at the County Antrim Shield games when three of them went to extra time, that shows you how competitive the teams are, and maybe the league title won't be a two horse race anymore," added Omagh man McDaid.

"The fans have always been great, and after the takeover and work going on around The Oval, people are looking at us in a different light and we may be able to come back as a strong force in the league.

"Supporters want to see a better standard of football and we want to give them that.

"This club has been give a cash injection and there's fresh optimism around."

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