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FAI open to All-Ireland league 'if it's the right thing for clubs'

Kieran Lucid’s plan received positive feedback at a two-day National League strategic planning convention at the weekend.

Noel Mooney pictured at yesterday's press conference.
Noel Mooney pictured at yesterday's press conference.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION of Ireland’s General Manager Noel Mooney has indicated the organisation are open to the creation of an All-Ireland league, though a number of issues still need to be ironed out in order for the proposal to become a reality.

Kieran Lucid, the Kerry businessman who came up with the plan for an all-island league, put forward his ideas in a presentation as part of a two-day National League strategic planning weekend hosted by the FAI at its Abbotstown headquarters in Dublin.

Niall Quinn and members of his Ireland Visionary Group, including Kieran Foley, Barry Lysaght and Ireland international Stephanie Roche, outlined their plans to offer their expertise to the league and the FAI going forward, while the group are keen to become part of the new association following the EGM and AGM later this month.

It was also confirmed that the Football Association of Ireland and the 20 SSE Airtricity League of Ireland clubs have agreed on a working group to develop a new strategy for professional league football in Ireland. The group will meet shortly after the association’s AGM on 27 July.

Mooney, speaking at a press conference on Sunday, explained that the external groups involving Quinn and Lucid had been advised to “continue working on their proposals to put more meat on the bone”.

A second working group are due to meet in mid-to-late August, when Quinn and Lucid’s parties will present more detailed versions of their previous proposals.

They weren’t pitches against each other,” Mooney said of Lucid and Quinn’s ideas. “There was a small bit I saw [in the media] that maybe they were competing ideas. They actually weren’t.

“Niall’s group was offering resources of very bright and connected people who could support the growth of the national league. They brought some really good concepts with them. I think that group does have resources that can help Irish football. Maybe it needs to be thought through how exactly they will interact with the FAI, whether that’s a think tank that sits outside the FAI, or someone wants to apply for directorships or board positions, I don’t know. But I suggested the group would actually consider what their role is in all of this.”

Niall Quinn Niall Quinn's group gave a presentation at FAI Headquarters this weekend. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There has been positive feedback from Lucid’s presentation in particular, with League of Ireland representatives praising its detail.

The FAI, meanwhile, have not yet spoken to the Irish Football Association (IFA) or Uefa about an all-Ireland league, while the teams would also have to agree on the proposal.

From the clubs’ perspective, Dundalk’s Martin Connolly added: “I believe it’s something that we would like to investigate further. 

“We would like to have more information. He still needs to talk to the IFA, some clubs up north and Uefa, so there’s still more information that we’d need to receive.”

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Mooney later elaborated on the two proposals, saying: “It’s clear that people like Niall’s group and Lucid’s group can only be good for the league. It just depends what form the external impetus takes, whether that’s the league staying within the association and I suppose being more ring-fenced from other activities of the association.

There are a lot of benefits to staying in the association, but the association has no agenda whether it should be within, completely out on its own, or some sort of hybrid model. All that matters is what’s the right thing for the game. It’s an exciting time where there’s nothing to stop us or nothing to stop the clubs doing what they want to do. The clubs can decide for themselves what they want to do.

“We’re trying to facilitate a discussion. Externally, we pointed out the benefits of why they should go out on their own. We will bring a lot of that. And we also pointed out the dangers or the benefits of staying as one clan, if you want to call it that. What was clear from the clubs is they want greater transparency on everything.

“Really, it comes from the governance review recommendation. There’s a lot of new faces. The place will be unrecognisable in a couple of months time with new board people, new committees. There’s a whole fresh group of people whose voices may not have been heard in the past and are now open to play central roles in the future of Irish football.

“We’re all pretty excited about the changes that are there now. They came under difficult circumstances. But I believe, and I think everyone in the room believes, that now is the opportunity for change.”

Mooney also compared the idea of an All-Ireland league to the ill-fated BeNe League. The latter saw the best women’s sides from Belgium and the Netherlands link up to form one competition. It was founded in 2012, before folding after three seasons.

“Uefa put some resources into that,” said Mooney, who has worked as the organisation’s Head of National Association Business Development in recent years. “We were quite excited by the idea of it, because it was two federations that were looking to build something together.

“But what happened over time was the Dutch teams were too strong and it just didn’t work. Eventually, they pulled apart on it.

But there is no policy I’m aware of that says cross-border leagues are good, bad or ugly. I think the idea is what’s the right thing for football. If the right thing for clubs is that there’s a bigger league with a bigger market potential, that it’s workable under political circumstances and it’s also workable under European positions, which is going to be an issue for clubs. What way does that end up?

“So we still don’t have a mandate yet to go to Uefa and ask them. And it’s not our job to do that yet. When we have a working group set up and running, the second working group is when two external groups come back and present what they’re doing. Maybe before that or maybe then, we may get a mandate to go and talk to the IFA or Uefa.”

Mooney added that he was keen for the working group to start making definitive decisions around September or October time, as the clubs begin to consolidate their plans for the 2020 season.

42% of leagues are outside of their association, but they’re still connected in some way,” added Connolly. “So there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

“I think we were told if there was an All-Ireland league, the headquarters would be Belfast. But what way would the registration work? What way would the discipline work? We just asked [Lucid] for more information.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy  / reports from FAI HQ in Abbotstown

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