By Sean Creedon
Newly appointed Sligo Rovers manager Tommy Cassidy said he feels that the time is now right for the formation of an All-Ireland League in soccer. Cassidy, a former Northern Ireland international, has Irish League experience as manager of Glentoran and Ards.
"Games like Linfield against Shelbourne and Glentoran against Shamrock Rovers would be a massive draw for both sets of supporters," Cassidy said. "One league, fewer clubs is the only way forward and the political climate is right now for change. A better product will lead to a greater profile in Europe."
Cassidy said that there is more football played in the North, but adds that clubs in the South are physically stronger and faster.
Former Finn Harps manager Patsy McGowan agrees.
"The game as we know it has been in freefall for many years and it’s high time something was done," he said. "I believe an All-Ireland League would be a winner for everyone connected with the game."
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League of Ireland Secretary Donal Crowther is also in favor of the idea.
"I know many people would love to see this happening, but it hasn’t been talked about," he said. "The only thing that has been suggested is a Super Cup between the teams involved in European competition before the start of the season."
However, a note of caution was raised from Irish League Secretary Harry Wallace.
"Clubs find it hard enough to survive at the moment, but having to fork out more for long journeys would make things worse," he said. "I think it will be some time before we can see a merger of the Eircom League and the Smirnoff Irish League — there’s a good mix, a Vodka while you chat on the phone. In the 1980s, we had the Tyler Cup, which saw the top four clubs [in the] North and South meet. However, there were violent scenes following some of Linfield’s trips south and the competition was discontinued.
"Clubs from both Leagues play each other in preseason friendlies and several Dublin-based players travel north every Saturday to play for various Irish League clubs. The lure of sterling can be more attractive than the struggling punt. But until we see some effort from the FAI and the IFA to get together there is now way the Leagues can amalgamate."
Meanwhile, Eircom League officials have been looking at how the Norwegians improved their domestic League and last week issued a set of recommendations.
The main one is that there would be a six-week winter break from the third Sunday in December until the first Sunday in February. Clubs will also have to improve their administration and facilities for spectators, media and television coverage. One of the first clubs to feel the effects of the new blueprint could be Longford Town, who will not be allowed take their place in the premier division if they win promotion this season. Longford’s home ground on the Strokestown Town is not up to the League’s required standard for the premier division.
World Cup qualifiers
The FAI will meet their counterparts from Holland, Portugal, Cyprus, Estonia and Andorra in Amsterdam on Jan. 20 and 21 to arrange dates for the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign. The games could get under way in May next year.
"We know Mick McCarthy’s preference for the way he wants the games structured and we are confident we can achieve most of what we want," FAI Chief Executive Bernard O’Byrne said.
The FAI last week agreed a £4.25 million deal with Sky Television for coverage of all home games until 2002. The deal will not affect RTE’s coverage of home games. However, it’s not yet clear as to which station will cover The Republic’s away games in the World Cup 2002 campaign. A German company UFA have secured the rights and they may sell to Sky, RTE or TV3.
Meanwhile Holland are quoted at 10-to-1 to win the World Cup outright, while The Republic are quoted at 150-1. I think that illustrates the gap in standards. Yes, on a good day we can beat anybody at Lansdowne Road, but our away form is dismal.
Remember Terry Phelan, who was a regular at left back for Ireland up to a few years ago? The 32-year-old, who now plays for Everton, has been plagued by injury in recent seasons, but is now back to full fitness. He won the last of his 38 caps against Romania in October 1997, but has not heard from Mick McCarthy since then.
"I thought Mick might have been in touch just to see how I was getting on with my injuries, but he hasn’t called or even written," Phelan said. "I would like to play for my country again and I certainly feel I could do a job at left-back. Roy Keane, Niall Quinn and Gary Kelly have all come back after long layoffs, so really it’s up to Mick to decide if I figure in his plans for the future."
And Phil Babb will soon be forgotten unless he gets some first-team football. Babb, who has not played for Liverpool’s first team this season, looked set to join Queens Park Rangers on loan last week until the end of the season, but the deal fell through. Babb, who won the last of his 29 Irish caps in the Peace International against Northern Ireland last May, is expected to move to Spanish club Santander next summer.
Also, former Irish international John Aldridge has got a new two-and-a-half year contract from Tranmere Rovers. On a tight budget Aldo has steered the Merseyside club into the top half of the first-division table. Last weekend, Tranmere dumped premiership club West Ham United out of the FA Cup.
McCoy rides 1000th
County Antrim-born jockey Tony McCoy rode his 1,000th winner over jumps at Cheltenham recently and in doing so became the quickest jockey ever to reach the millennium mark. The 25-year-old reached the magic figure in just five years. His next target is Peter Scudamore’s record of 1,678, while the all-time record is held by Richard Dunwoody currently stands at 1,699. Dunwoody is injured at present.
Meath’s long-serving manager, Sean Boylan, was last week named Philips Manager of the Year for 1999. Amazingly, it’s the first time that the popular Dunboyne herbalist has won the award. Boylan, who has been in charge of the Meath senior football team for 17 years, has won four All-Ireland senior titles for The Royal County.
Also, we still don’t know who will captain Kerry next year. The recent O’Donoghue Cup Final between East Kerry clubs Glenflesk and Rathmore ended in a draw. Now the teams will meet again in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, on Sunday. If Glenflesk win, the honor will go to Seamus Moynihan, while Declan O’Keeffe will get to skipper the Kingdom if Rathmore triumph.