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Buckley not giving up on Setanta yet

LIAM BUCKLEY wants the blazers on both sides of the border to do all they can to save the Setanta Sports Cup from disappearing off the calendar.

League of Ireland clubs have dominated the cross-border competition since it was introduced nine years ago, but the tournament has been losing momentum in recent seasons, with constant changes to the format and reduced prize money leading to doubts about its long-term future.

Barring a miracle, the 2014 trophy will stay south of the border – Shamrock Rovers are the holders – as three Irish League sides have already failed to get into the semi-finals, beaten by St Patrick's Athletic, Sligo Rovers and Dundalk, while Shamrock Rovers are all but assured of a semi-final berth as they lead Belfast side Glentoran 5-1 ahead of the second leg of their quarter-final battle at the Oval next week.

This year, the tournament received a kicking before it had even started as Belfast sides Linfield – inaugural winners of the trophy, at a time when the champions picked up a cheque for €100,000 – and Cliftonville declined offers to take part.

With Coleraine, Crusaders and Ballinamallard United already knocked out and Glentoran effectively out, the current aggregate score for this season (24-5 in favour of the League of Ireland teams) is a cause for concern in the North.

But Pats boss Buckley, whose club have never won the Setanta Cup, wants to see it survive. "We may have to look at the date of the competition again and maybe shorten it and have it as one-off games. We need something to keep it alive and keep its integrity by having the best teams from the North and the best teams from the South in it," said Buckley, who admitted the decision by Linfield and Cliftonville to pull out so they could focus on their league challenge was a blow.

"It is probably more disappointing in terms of the two clubs pulling out. It's not a good sign.

"It's a worthy competition and I did not like being knocked out by Glentoran in the first round last year.

"This year, we have been in a little bit better of a position in terms of pre-season and I would expect us to do reasonably well.

"The problem the Irish League clubs have is that there is so much money involved in winning the league and there is also UEFA money.

"They may look at it that they don't want to be dropping points at the tail end of their season, I am sure that is the reason why they pulled out of it."

Fermanagh club Ballinmallard United only got a chance to enter the competition when Linfield and Cliftonville withdrew and, while a 6-0 hammering over two legs was a lesson for the club, they also see value in the tournament – if it can be restructured.

"I think, if the organisation can be got right, then it has to have a future," said Ballinmallard boss Whitey Anderson.

"Maybe we need to get the clubs around the table and say, 'how do we do this'?

"Surely, it has to have some sort of potential. I know a few years ago, it was very successful with big crowds."