Belfast Telegraph

IFA President Kennedy rules out All Ireland

Paul Ferguson reports

In old-style Paisley fashion, Irish FA President Raymond Kennedy last night issued a defiant message: "No to an All Ireland."

The Irish FA chief has been left fuming by news that negotiations are at an advanced stage concerning the formation of a new All Ireland league.

Marketing company Platinum One, who have innovative former Derry City Chief Executive Jim Roddy as their frontman, have tabled a proposal to clubs north and south of the border.

And they hope money will talk, as they have dangled a whopping £7.5 million carrot as a total prize pot.

It is believed an eight team league - three clubs from the Irish League plus Derry City and four sides from the Republic - would be formed for the inaugral season.

After consultations in December, a number of clubs in the south, plus east Belfast giants Glentoran, spoke out in favour of rejuvenating club football in Ireland with a new league. But Ireland's biggest club, Linfield voiced their objections and refused to support the idea.

Kennedy is delighted with Linfield's stance and declares that an All Ireland league will never be come about while he is President.

The Irish FA have a powerful voice on FIFA's ruling body and Kennedy is deeply concerned that would be placed in jeopardy.

Kennedy stressed: "There will never be an official All Ireland League.

"If that were to occur, you would need the Irish Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland to merge and that is simply not going to happen.

"We can have all the friendly cross border competitions we want and the Setanta Cup has proved to be a major success. But it is still only a friendly competition between the two associations and each club still represents their relevant association.

"There has never been, nor will there ever be, an official All Ireland league.

"The IFA needs to keep an identity in the world game and we have a history and tradition to protect and respect.

"We're not going to lose that just so we can start up a league between sides north and south of the border.

"That doesn't mean we will not continue to develop the excellent relations we now have with our friends down south. However we have to remember in football terms we are two countries and two associations.

"We have a unique position in the world's governing body, FIFA, regarding votes and we have a privileged role on the rule making body.

"We would never jeopardise that position."

Kennedy and IFA Chief Executive Howard Wells have spoken at length with their FAI counterparts on this subject. And both are singing from the same hymn sheet when they state any All Ireland league could only go ahead if given permission by both associations.

That is unlikely to be granted in the immediate future as the IFA look to safeguard their own Carnegie Premier Division and go full steam ahead with the new 12-team invitational league.

Kennedy admits if there was an All Ireland league then it would signal the death knell for those smaller Irish League clubs left behind.

"We have to look after, improve and nuture our own domestic game - not allow our best teams to go and play in another league," insists Kennedy.

"And don't forget if Linfield, Glentoran or Portadown wanted to join this league then they would have to be given permission to leave the Irish League and I can tell you we as an association wouldn't even contemplate granting them permission.

"Derry City were given permission to leave because of the Troubles - that is a different scenario all together.

"It would sign the death warrants of all the other teams left in the Irish League and surely as members of the Irish League, the bigger clubs have a responsibility to the smaller clubs.

"We couldn't stand by and let our domestic game be wrecked - some clubs would be left on the scrapheap.

"They may say that they would come up against better opposition and competition but all the teams would have to become professional. How many players would be willing to give up decent jobs with the chance that this league may not work out? Or how many chairmen would take the chance of allowing their club to go professional and in a year's time suddenly find themselves bankrupt?

"Just look at what happened down south with Shelbourne - they've done remarkably well to bounce back after a crisis.

"Travelling must also come into it. Could they really afford to be going to Galway, Cork, Dublin and further afield on a regular basis? At what cost?

"We at the IFA are 100 per cent committed to our new 12 team Invitational League and that's what we are concentrating all our efforts on."

An All Ireland league therefore remains a pipedream.

Unless, that is, Platinum One can use all their persuasive powers and top notch marketing skills to change the mindsset of the two associations and Linfield.

Hardly likely, I know, but then who ever believed when Paisley roared the words "Never, Never, Never" that in 2008, he would be sitting in government with Sinn Fein?


From Belfast Telegraph