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All-Ireland League would improve quality - Foster

Dundalk manager Ian Foster believes that renewed efforts should be made to set up an 'All-Ireland League' despite the complicated politics that would be involved.

Foster is preparing his side for Saturday's Setanta Cup final against Shamrock Rovers, with the cross-border competition again dominated by League of Ireland clubs.

However, the Liverpudlian got a real taste of football in the North by knocking out Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville on the way to Tallaght, and the experience has convinced him that an all-island league could work.

"It would improve the product so much," said Foster yesterday. "I think we have a wonderful product down here, but if you added those Belfast clubs into it, you would have one hell of a league.

"I didn't know the quality of the teams in the North before, to be honest. But you could have a 16 or 18-team league involving your Shelbournes and Corks and adding some very good quality from the North. It would be wonderful.

"There are politics, and I understand you have the two football associations. They have obviously got two different national teams and then there is European qualification and things like that. It's not easy, and I'm not saying it would be, but for me it would add so much quality. They do it in the rugby and they manage it. It's something that's certainly worth having a look at."

Previous plans to establish a league were driven by an independent company, Platinum One, and ultimately came to nothing. Ironically enough, Dundalk were operating in the First Division at the time and weren't initially involved in breakaway plans.

Yet they have really taken to the Setanta Cup in their first attempt, and the big crowds and trouble free away journeys have encouraged Foster that his vision might work.

"You would have to assemble a committee from north and south and say -- go and work it out," he continued. "Spend a year getting all the pros and cons out of the way and find out which is the best way to do it. Because, for me, if you did it, everything about it would improve.

"The fans would enjoy it more, and the style of football would be better. The players would be competing against better players and that is something we are missing out on."

Foster is sweating over the fitness of midfielder Stephen McDonnell, with the results of a knee scan set to determine whether he will be involved.

His opposite number Michael O'Neill -- who had no update on his contract situation -- expects Gary Twigg and Chris Turner to figure, but anticipates the final will come too soon for Craig Sives.

Irish Independent