Belfast Telegraph

'Potential like no other proposal': Irish League giants welcome All-Island plans

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
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

Danske Bank Premiership big guns have given a cautious welcome to the new All-Island football league proposals.

Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid's team are proposing an all-Ireland 14-team Premier Division, with two 10-team regional leagues below it.

Linfield, Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine have indicated they would like to learn more about the new project. Clubs attended an information evening on the plans in Dundalk on Thursday night and Lucid said the "vast majority of invited clubs" had been in attendance.

Lucid, former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr and former English FA general secretary Alex Horne have drawn up proposals for the historic new structure.

Significant prize money, a potential lucrative television deal and sponsorship packages are being discussed and the Belfast Telegraph understands that the distribution money for all clubs in the first season is around €6.25m (£5.4m).

The first campaign would be a transitional April to January season before mirroring the current campaign in the Airtricity Premier League.

It appears inevitable, however, that Irish League clubs will lose a few European places.

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But one Irish League source who attended the meeting said: "The cynicism is understandable as we have been down this road before but I felt the presentation was very detailed and very well thought out. It has the potential to lift the two leagues like no other proposal I have seen. It's important now that clubs test the proposal."

Linfield and Glentoran have stressed that they will be guided by feedback from their own stakeholders before taking a definitive stance on the idea, with Linfield chairman Roy McGivern of the view that a decision will need to be made early next year about whether to proceed.

Glentoran director Graham Jenkins stated: "The working group was really impressive. You can't walk away from the process because there is something behind it that's really impressive but, at this stage, there's no detail to take it further.

"It's just an expression of interest, and Glentoran Football Club will look at it and we will be part of the process going forward but it's way too early to say it can go somewhere because there are lots of local issues that we have to take care of that haven't really been addressed in terms of our local community. That's in terms of Brexit, and all of the issues that come from that.

"We will have to be very careful and talk to our fans, and all of our stakeholders, and then take it to the next stage.

"We're an open book. We would be interested in looking at an All-Ireland league."

Jenkins added: “Interestingly we participated in the Setanta Cup for nine years and it failed. We were one of the clubs that took it seriously, we had lots of fans that travelled all over Ireland, to Cork and to Sligo, and it wasn’t reciprocated by a lot of the southern-based clubs.

“We’ve to look at it all and decide. It would be a decision to come out of our comfort zone and to go into something that could be a lot bigger.”

Crusaders will hold a public meeting at Seaview next month so that supporters can be briefed.

The Crues stated yesterday: “A fact-based ambitious proposal was presented by Kieron Lucid and his colleagues to revive domestic Irish football. The financial business case for the new proposal is compelling from day one, however the potential for growth demands the proposal is given due consideration.

“Kieron Lucid’s AIL proposal may or may not get the traction it needs to become a reality but it deserves thorough scrutiny and open, informed debate. It is beholden on those who would seek to close down debate or administratively frustrate the proposals to come up with better alternatives. We all know the status quo won’t wash.”

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry, who attended the meeting, said: “From my point of view, it was a worthwhile discussion led by Kieran and his working group. They are clearly intent on making this work and I think there was enough detail shared to continue with in-depth discussions at a later date.

“I will report what was said to my fellow Board of Directors, and as a club we will inform supporters of any progress on the proposal.”

A key speaker at the meeting was Pieter Nieuwenhuis, a director and founder of Dutch company Hypercube who have extensive experience in designing league competitions for Uefa and around Europe, most notably in the Danish Superleague, and have partnered with Lucid’s working group on this project.

Oliver Weingarten, a legal and commercial expert who has worked with the Premier League, also addressed the room.

Former English FA general secretary Alex Horne made a contribution by video link.

It’s understood that the Football Association of Ireland are more inclined to endorse the project than the Irish Football Association.

The plan would need backing of the clubs and the two national federations, as well as European governing body Uefa.

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