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Sunday 20 October 2019

Rovers boss is keen to break for the border

Bradley believes there are benefits for all if a 32-county league can work

Stephen Bradley thinks an all-Ireland league is the way forward
Stephen Bradley thinks an all-Ireland league is the way forward

For the next four days at least, the focus for Shamrock Rovers is to make sure that the 2019 league title run-in is not just a one-horse race.

But longer term, the club's manager feels that a proposed all-Ireland league is the way forward to develop football on this island.

"I'd love for it to happen. I think it would be great," Rovers manager Stephen Bradley says of an all-Ireland league.

A plan by Kerry-born tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid for what he calls an all-island league has already been floated, and Lucid will get the chance to put his proposal to club delegates at an FAI gathering next month.

Some have been impressed by the vision and financial possibilities from the Lucid plan, where the side finishing bottom of a new 14-team league would get three times more in prize money than the current winners of the League of Ireland Premier Division, and Lucid also claims to have expressions of interest from a broadcaster which could financially transform how games here are televised.

stack

A stack of problems are also lined up. The time-frame, where Lucid wants the new league to start in 2021, looks wildly ambitious. Retaining European places from UEFA (currently eight across both leagues, down to seven next year) is a major hurdle, while both leagues would have to make compromises on their season structure.

Brexit is the great unknown, while keeping two national teams with just one national league in place would also be a hard sell, and already northern voices are dubious, former Linfield boss David Jeffrey saying "I believe there would be financial risks involved and also logistical issues to overcome."

Bradley's main concerns right now are vital league games, at home to Dundalk tonight and away to St Patrick's Athletic on Monday, Dundalk with the potential to go eight points clear of the Hoops if they can win in Tallaght. But Bradley, a two-time winner of the now-defunct Setanta Cup as a player, sees the merit.

"I think it would definitely be a step forward. I know it has been talked about a long time ago and it never actually happened," he says.

"I know there are a lot of bridges to be crossed in terms of European places and prize money, government help.

"For the neutral who maybe comes and watches our game on Friday, would he go to more games if it's Linfield coming down to us?

"I think it definitely adds to it and would make it more competitive. I think it would be a positive step," added Bradley. His club are guaranteed €225,000 in UEFA prize money no matter the outcome of next month's tussle with Norwegian side Brann and Bradley admits that the loss of European revenue would be a major cause for concern for any club on the island.

The Rovers boss has done his homework on Brann: "it's a tough game but it's definitely one we can win".

Yet with their focus on domestic issues, the Rovers camp are keen to stress that tonight's clash with Dundalk is not a must-win game.

"Even if we do lose, the season is far from over. There's still a lot of football to play," says ex-Dundalk man Ronan Finn.

Dundalk took in a training camp in Spain to keep things ticking over while Rovers stayed close to home.

Dundalk were able to get injured players like Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson closer to fitness, boss Vinny Perth happy to see all his players out on the training field at the same time for the first time this season, a moment worthy of a "standing ovation", he joked.

"It's a busy time ahead domestically and in Europe," says Perth, who had a spying mission to Latvia earlier this week to see their Champions League opponents.

Both clubs have been active on the transfer market this week, Dundalk bringing Andy Boyle back to the club while Rovers signed UCD duo Gary O'Neill and Neil Farrugia. Graham Cummins remains a target, but due to red tape issues new signings are not available for tonight or Monday's fixtures.

With a win and a draw from two meetings this year, Dundalk have the edge in this fixture but Bradley is playing a long-ball game. "If you look at what's to play for, 30-odd points, there's a long way to go," he says.

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