All 10 Premier Division clubs in the Airtricity League and 10 of 12 in the top flight of the Northern Irish Football League have written to their respective associations to say that they are to formally engage with Uefa with regard to the formation of an all-island league.
The move comes after three years of work by tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid aimed at establishing a single league competition and a lengthy consultation process overseen by Dutch consultants Hypercube which has dramatically impacted on the original proposal.
The upshot is a plan regarded by many as involving a convoluted league structure, one that involves parallel leagues continuing to operate either side of the border, but also a joint competition which Hypercube projects would increase revenues within the Irish club game by a factor of five over the coming decade.
Although there has been some public resistance to the plan north of the border, most obviously from Cliftonville who have spoken out against it on more than one occasion, a clear majority of the clubs there wrote to the IFA on July 10th to say that they support the idea of talks with Uefa to gauge how supportive the federation might be.
It is believed that Uefa will be very supportive as the organisation is keen to see a cross border competition established somewhere in Europe as a way of exploring the commercial and other possibilities of such regional moves at a time when the continent’s very biggest leagues have become dominant to the point where they threaten the viability of the club game in many other countries.
In their letter to the FAI, which has consistently said in recent months that it would respect any decision the clubs took together with regard to their future, the clubs say that: “The continuing power of the FA Premier League and the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 crisis make the wellbeing of our national league very uncertain. Still, the underlying continuing popularity of football on the island and the sustained mergence of talented young players and coaches mean the game here continues to be rich in raw materials, something that’s been confirmed by Hypercube’s study.”
In its study, Hypercube recommended a compromised structure under which clubs in the respective Premier Divisions would play two rounds of games before a split based on standings that would involve clubs from north and south then playing each other.
Points earned from the games against clubs from their original league would count towards both competitions; domestic and all-island, which those from matches against sides from across the border would count only in the new competition which would eventually be decided in a knockout finale.
Hypercube project that the adoption of the system, along with rather modest improvements to grounds and other facilities and the improved transfer market for Irish players they envisage being created by a better club landscape, would result in combined revenues growing from around €21 million now to €99.5 million over a 10-year period.
Much of the additional revenue, it is anticipated, would come from regular participation in the new Uefa Conference League, something that the Dutch firm suggests will be very achievable.
Clubs are now calling on the two associations to facilitate further work on the compromise proposal. Senior officials at the IFA had publicly rejected it back in May but it is believed that the association has engaged in talks behind the scenes and talks with Uefa are expected to take place, something that would represent a significant step forward in what has been a long and, at times, difficult process to date.
More information: THE IRISH TIMES.