The Irish Independent reports that “advanced discussions about the introduction of an All Ireland soccer league” have taken place between top eircom League and Irish League sides and with the backing of “significant third party” encouragement.
While the report cites no sources and accordingly has to be taken with a large pinch of salt, it appears the intention is to draft a New Year proposal that “will be too good for the FAI and IFA to refuse”.
Daniel McDonnell believes that while the prospect of an All Ireland league has until now been viewed as “an impossible dream” due to political and logistical hurdles, the introduction of the Setanta Sports Cup has introduced new momentum.
Early plans envisaged that the new All Ireland League would comprise twelve teams with regional leagues underneath while both the FAI Cup and IFA Cup would remain in situ thus retaining a degree of historical tradition.
Those ideas are not set in stone, though, with the only firm issue of agreement being that any club wishing to be in the top league should be a full time professional outfit with suitable facilities.
Those clubs in the North that have participated in secret talks naturally include big guns like Linfield and Glentoran but there are also surprise packages such as Newry City who have ambitious plans about their future which they also expect to announce early next year.
Naturally, the clubs need to convince the FAI and the IFA of the merits of such a league or at least force them to sit up and take notice.
The origins of the initiative came from meetings between the six leading eircom League full time clubs — Cork City, Drogheda United, Derry City, St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians and Galway United.
The logistical problems include the distribution of European places as well as the strong possibility that FIFA would demand that if the Irish leagues are united then the international team should go the same way.
Speaking of FIFA, the organisation’s Executive Committtee is scheduled to give its verdict on the eligibility row regarding footballers born in Northern Ireland declaring for the Irish Republic this Saturday in Tokyo.