Friday, February 24, 2006

The (dis)unity of Irish football

The Setanta Cup is an annual competition between four teams from Northern Ireland four teams from the Republic which was first played last year when Linfield won it with a 2-0 win over Shelbourne.

It's not the first attempt at an all-Ireland football tournament but I think it is a significant tournament because it's the first post-Troubles attempt to do this. It's also in the news because Linfield played Derry City on Monday for the first time in 34 years. This has led to speculation about an all-Ireland football league with Derry City (who currently play in the League of Ireand having left the IFA in 1972 because of safety fears) supporting the idea and the IFA opposing the idea.

Presumably it would make economic (and geographic) sense for Derry City to play against northern clubs but I agree with IFA president Jim Boyce's argument that UEFA and FIFA currently recognise two Football Associations on the island which gives more teams the opportunity to play in Europe. If there were just one league, half these would lose out. (Currently there are four places available in the north and four in the Republic.)

Jim Boyce does not oppose the idea of an amalgamated league stucture to the Setanta Cup but an all-Ireland football league, he feels, is unworkable.


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