Kieran Lucid and team 'remain focused' on All-Island League proposals despite Irish FA rejection
The men masterminding an All-Island Football League insist their dream is not over, despite the Irish FA saying yesterday they cannot support the project.
It's been suggested that the Irish FA were more cautious about the idea over financial concerns and maintaining their independence, but a source maintained that they studied the plans closely and believed it was not a gamble worth taking.
While the Irish League isn't a perfect model, the IFA source stated that there was too much of a "risk factor" in these proposals.
The Association's rejection of the plans will be backed by some clubs, including Ballymena United who welcomed the statement, but some supporters will feel the Irish FA should have looked at the bigger picture and assessed potential benefits.
Tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid, who has been driving the plans, says it's not the end of the road for an All-Island League.
"We note the announcement of the IFA," he said. "The project we are embarked on is to support and improve the lot of professional football clubs on the island of Ireland.
"We remain focused on that objective. A considerable amount of work has been done to date; clubs are being regularly updated and consulted with as we make progress. The work will continue."
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— Ballymena United FC (@BallymenaUnited) October 31, 2019
⚽️ | Statement on behalf of Ballymena United pic.twitter.com/QcalRbEYEq
The proposals centred on a 14-team All-Island Premier Division, with two 10-team regional leagues below it, but now the IFA have stated they cannot sanction the proposal, it appears to be dead in the water. The question that could arise is whether any Irish League clubs will attempt to break free from the Irish FA but that is highly unlikely. Although clubs were impressed by a presentation given in Dundalk last month, they retain doubts over the long-term viability of the project and the loss of European places was a significant concern.
The IFA is backing this month's Unite the Unions Champions Cup game between Linfield and Dundalk but they insisted they cannot support this league plan.
The statement, issued by IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson, said: "The Irish Football Association has confirmed that it will not sanction any of its member clubs to take part in an All-Island (All-Ireland) Football League as proposed by Irish businessman Kieran Lucid.
"Having listened to the proposals from Mr Lucid and his team, we believe the best interests of our member clubs and football in Northern Ireland are better served by remaining with the club-led model established in 2013 via the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL).
"NIFL has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2013 and continues to attract increased sponsorship and funding.
"The present distribution model, unanimously agreed by all clubs, ensures all 12 teams in the Danske Bank Premiership benefit from the prize fund.
"This has created a balanced league which has seen a substantial increase in attendances, awareness and television coverage. The potential income figures quoted in Mr Lucid's proposals are highly speculative and lack specificity or guarantees.
"Uefa competition places, prize monies and youth solidarity funding are important to our clubs and we do not wish to put these in question.
"We greatly value our association and club links with the Football Association of Ireland and are happy to both take part in, and enhance, cross-border cup competitions at all levels.
"We already have the new Unite the Union Champions Cup, played for between the champions of the Irish League and League of Ireland, the Presidents' Cup for Junior sides in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and a proposed new intermediate level competition."
Ballymena United welcomed the IFA's response, saying: "Whilst there were aspects to the conversations that were interesting, we are in full agreement with Patrick Nelson's earlier comments, and we are fully committed to continued membership of NIFL which we feel is most supportive for Ballymena United and its supporter base."
The IFA statement was issued on the same day that NIFL released figures indicating that the average attendance at games in the top flight so far this season has risen 7.86% on the same period last year.
This development is a setback for Lucid and his team but it could make them even more determined to table fresh proposals in the future.