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Enforced down period provides right time to debate the radical all-island plan


IDEAS: Kieran Lucid. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

IDEAS: Kieran Lucid. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile


IDEAS: Kieran Lucid. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

If not now, then when? The Covid-19 shutdown has provided the ideal opportunity to properly debate the concept of an all-island league.

The efforts of Kerry entrepreneur Kieran Lucid and his steering group has kept the show on the road for such a competition, and Dutch experts Hypercube were able to collect data from clubs.

They sent out an update ten days ago which has been swallowed up somewhat by sport's ongoing dilemma.Nevertheless, the subsequent confirmation that the FAI and IFA had set up a steering group to look at the viability of the concept represents progress. It makes sense to do so at a time when football on the island is united in limbo, starved of the resources to plough forward in the manner of major leagues. Broadcasters don't pay the bills.

League of Ireland and Irish League operations might differ in terms of identity, but there are more commonalities than things which divide them.

And coronavirus is shining a light on the economics of the food chain, with the potential for wide-reaching implications. Over the water in England, officials and players in League One and League Two are fearing for the future. Only the strongest will survive intact.

This is mirrored around the football globe, and everything we take as a given might have to be reviewed. The glass-half-full take is that it's the worst time to bring forward an idea that would shift plates. But difficulty can lead to opportunities for open minds too.

Clubs have stated a preference for a Hypercube format which must be approved by the FAI/IFA and UEFA before the make-or-break commercial deals can be struck.

It's complicated but both leagues retain a degree of independence before cross-border clashes finish each individual season.

The first half of the season would be a tweaked version of the status quo (amended to two 12-team leagues) with two rounds of fixtures (22 games) before the top eight in the LOI and top six from the Irish League go into a 14-team league with one round of fixtures where points go towards both that table and the existing domestic league.

After that, finishing positions would determine seedings for a knock-out tournament to crown all-island champions. But from the original leagues we'd also have national champions and Euro qualifiers (relegation matters would also have a cross-border element) - an unusual twist.

It remains to be seen if UEFA will find room for extra representatives or if they'd tolerate a situation whereby a game between, say, Linfield and Dundalk, could have a vital say in the destination of two Champions League spots.

But the varying methods of settling leagues as a result of Covid-19 has highlighted that member associations put names to UEFA for approval and they only object if they have fears around integrity.

There are indications that their stance on cross-border events is flexible and there might be scope here to test the water with a politically friendly Irish question.

While northern-based doubters harbour serious reservations about the plausibility of Lucid's targets - and there's a chicken and egg aspect to testing monetary theories - a European solution would seriously weaken the case against trying.

The scenario limits the number of cross-border trips per club, with the cost of travel a consistent northern complaint. Annual trips to Cork are not a given; it'll depend on the fixture generator. Indeed, it's the Munster sides that would incur the biggest travel costs.

In truth, gripes under this heading from certain quarters smacked of attempts to find fault; it wasn't a good enough reason to derail a concept that could be transformative if it brought the best of both worlds together while respecting traditions.

For all that the 'new FAI' is looking at ways to revamp club football in their territory, this is the only radical option.

So, there should be no obstacle to getting the relevant people in the one virtual conference room.

In this period of reflection, football communities on the island must consider if they really crave a new normal.