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'Serious merit in proposals': Shane Ross backs all-island soccer league

The Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland has dismissed such proposals so far.

90434661_90434661 Minister Shane Ross Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER FOR SPORT Shane Ross has encouraged the football associations in Ireland and Northern Ireland to come together to work on the possible creation of an All-Ireland soccer league. 

In response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien, Ross said he is “very supportive of cross-border sporting initiatives” and that there is “serious merit” in the proposals for an All-Ireland soccer league.

There are two separate football associations on the island of Ireland – the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the Irish Football Association (IFA) in Northern Ireland. 

At senior level, there are two main leagues in the League of Ireland which includes 20 teams. The Irish Premiership in the North has 12 teams in the top division at senior level.

A group of eight people have been developing proposals for an all-island league since 2017.

brian-gartland-and-jamie-mcgrath-with-jack-byrne Shamrock Rovers clashed with Dundalk in the recent FAI Cup Final Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It includes tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid, ex-Irish manager Brian Kerr, former FA general secretary Alex Horne, and former League of Ireland chairman Brendan Dillon. 

The proposal envisages a 14-team top division, running from April right to the end of the year, perhaps culminating as late as New Year’s Day. It is envisaged that there would be two regional leagues beneath the top flight, linked by promotion and relegation. 

It had been hoped that these proposals could take effect by 2021, but that looks unlikely. 

The group says that there are enormous commercial benefits that could be gained through an all-island league, through the enhanced sponsorship and TV revenue. 

They have made attempts to get clubs on board with the plans, with 36 clubs from both sides of the border attending a meeting on the proposals late last month.

Lucid’s plans were dealt a blow, however, as the IFA in the North said it wouldn’t sanction its clubs to take part in an all-island competition. 

“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),” IFA CEO Patrick Nelson said in a statement.

Nelson said that the current revenue figures for the Northern Irish league compare favourably to Lucid’s group, which he described as “highly speculative”.

Not to be dissuaded, the group calling for the all-Ireland league said they wouldn’t be abandoning their proposals. 

“A considerable amount of work has been done to date, clubs are being regularly updated and consulted with as we make progress,” Lucid told The42.ie. “The work will continue.”

As the two football associations are independent bodies, Shane Ross said the government could not intervene in this matter.

But, in his parliamentary response, he did express support for the proposals.

The minister said: “The organisation of sport on an all-island basis has worked very successfully for a number of sports, most notably in the cases of rugby and hockey. 

I am very supportive of cross-border sporting initiatives and collaborations between sporting organisations. Such approaches have excellent potential to enhance relationships on both parts of the island of Ireland.

Ross said he was aware of the proposals that have been put forward and acknowledged that it has not been possible to progress them as of yet.

“It is important to respect the autonomy and positions of the national governing bodies in this matter however personally, I believe there is serious merit in such proposals,” the minister said.

I would encourage the bodies to continue to facilitate opportunities for cross-border cooperation and competition.

With reporting from Gavin Cooney

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