Belfast Telegraph

Lyttle: An all-Ireland league would struggle to win over clubs

 

Gerard Lyttle
Gerard Lyttle
Old foes: Fixtures like the Setanta Sports Cup clashes between Linfield and Derry City could become a regular feature in an all-island set-up

By Graham Luney

Gerard Lyttle says he finds it hard to see an all-island league taking shape on the horizon.

Kerry entrepreneur Kieran Lucid is hoping his ambitious plan becomes a reality with the help of substantial backing from sponsors and significant television money.

Lucid told the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday that a television company would be willing to invest over £1m to screen a proposed new all-island league.

The Northern Ireland Football League and Danske Bank Premiership clubs are aware of the discussions and while the concept has been described as an interesting one, there remains a great deal of scepticism.

It's widely accepted that the game, both in the north and south, could benefit from fresh ideas and investment but the working group behind this plan is facing many hurdles.

Lucid, who heads the working group which includes former Republic of Ireland boss Brian Kerr and ex-Glentoran chairman Stafford Reynolds, said that he "would like to start in May 2020-2021" with 34 clubs competing in three divisions.

Among the concerns raised at the prospect of a cross-border league is a fear European places would be lost, northern clubs would struggle to implement a full-time set-up and some would feel cast adrift, cut off from the top sides pocketing most of the coverage and cash.

Sign In

There is also the time and money required to travel long distances that may dissuade clubs and fans.

Lyttle has experience of working in both leagues from his time in charge of Cliftonville and Sligo Rovers and while he welcomes fresh ideas to improve the game across the island, he's not convinced an all-island league is feasible.

"An all-Ireland league would be unbelievable if it happened but I can understand the concerns of clubs," said the 41-year-old.

"I personally can't see it happening. There's a lot of what ifs and clubs need the European money to keep moving forward.

"Clubs aren't going to accept that funding disappearing. Clubs could be buried financially.

"There's also an issue with the travelling. At Sligo we played Waterford five times in a season and it was the longest trip away along with Cork and Limerick.

"We only had one overnight stay in Waterford the whole time I was there because we couldn't afford the hotel and food. You have to take into account the travelling and it can be crazy.

"Our clubs would need to go full-time as the players couldn't simply take time off work.

"As a football fan I'd love to see summer football in Northern Ireland but it may take a few years for clubs to adjust to full-time football.

"Clubs are stepping up their training and it's nearly a full-time set-up. The mentality is changing.

"I'm always very impressed with NIFL and how they are developing the game. There is more exposure and more investment in clubs.

"I think more clubs will bring in general managers to bring in sponsorship and generate income.

"I'm excited about our game and believe it will get stronger and better."

Lyttle, who departed Sligo in October and now works with Jim Magilton on the Club NI programme, can understand the desire to transform the Football Association of Ireland and the game in the south.

"There's a lot of uncertainty about the League of Ireland," said the Belfast man.

"If truth be told, it's been run very poorly.

"I know when I was at Sligo we had 12 weeks before we had a home fixture which is absolutely ludicrous.

"For clubs that depend on their home gates, that's not easy and fortunately Sligo were good at fundraising, otherwise they could be on their knees.

"It's still a great league and something needs to be done about it.

"It needs fresh ideas and I welcome the input of Kieran Lucid and Niall Quinn as well as other football men putting forward ideas to improve the game."

Lucid, a 35-year-old tech expert who sold his company Quantum KDB for €2.9m in 2016, is working towards a Premiership consisting of eight teams from the current SSE Airtricity League and five from the Danske Bank Premiership, with the final place decided via a play-off.

The season would finish in a play-off series to determine Europa League places and the final promotion and relegation places, which would take place at either Windsor Park or the Aviva Stadium on alternate years.

The regular season in the top flight would consist of a 26-game schedule with sides playing each other home and away.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph