Belfast Telegraph

Linfield will consider All-Island League at Thursday meeting, admits Pat Fenlon

Open mind: Pat Fenlon and Linfield will consider all possibilities
Open mind: Pat Fenlon and Linfield will consider all possibilities

By Steven Beacom

Linfield general manager Pat Fenlon has praised the man behind an ambitious All-Island League plan for his vision and desire to make domestic football better in Northern Ireland and the Republic ahead of a crucial meeting about the proposal.

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.

To that end, Lucid has organised a meeting in Dundalk on Thursday to outline his ideas. It is understood 20 League of Ireland clubs, plus the 12 current top-flight Irish League sides and Championship sides who have been in the Irish Premiership in the past five years, have been invited.

Lucid and his team will give presentations on their plans and reveal how they believe they would benefit clubs in the north and the south, offering details on prize money, a potential lucrative television deal and sponsorship packages.

The tech millionaire has already held a number of meetings with clubs on each side of the border, plus the FAI, Irish FA and Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL).

He also has support from former Republic of Ireland boss Brian Kerr, one-time English FA general secretary Alex Horne and ex-Glentoran chairman Stafford Reynolds.

Fenlon, a hero as a player at Linfield and former boss of Shelbourne, Derry City, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers, has been impressed by Lucid's imagination and diligence.

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"There's a lot of work that has gone into Kieran's proposals," said Fenlon. "It's not just him saying, 'Let's have an All-Ireland League' and we'll then think about it like a lot of things tend to be here. He's already brought a lot of information to the clubs and I presume he will try and advance that in the get together.

"He's doing all this off his own bat. He has no major involvement in the game in this country. He is someone who has come from left field, which is good because sometimes when an idea comes from certain people inside the game it can be seen as an agenda. He doesn't have any agenda. It is to try and make the game better."

If the radical plan has any chance of coming to fruition it will be crucial that Linfield buy into it.

Fenlon says the Blues will approach Thursday's discussions in Dundalk with an open mind.

"Linfield's position is we will attend the meeting and see what is on the table," said Fenlon, who will be accompanied by chairman Roy McGivern.

"We will look at two things: does it benefit Linfield and can it help develop the game in the country?

"Both leagues need development and need to improve, so my view is you explore all avenues until you come to a conclusion for what is best for both leagues.

"Of course it's a hard sell. With the way football works, every club will look after themselves, but we also have to take into account what is best for the game in the country as a whole and developing both leagues, improving attendances, TV deals and all that.

"I haven't spoken to enough clubs in the north to say they are for or against it, but at Linfield we have had discussions about it and will continue to do that."

Intriguingly, Fenlon suggests the thought of having a new All-Island League ready for 2021 may be a stretch too far.

"I might differ a little bit from Kieran in relation to the timeline but that's all for discussion," said Linfield's general manager.

"My way about this is not to rush. If we are going to do this, especially up in the north where there would be a change to the league in terms of seasonality, you can't rush. You have one chance of doing this, so when you do it, people have to take notice of it and see it as a brand new and exciting product."

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