Thursday 18 July 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Kerr’s backing and FAI crisis is helping all-island plan gain traction'

Lucid’s cross-border league proposal has many hurdles to clear but these are the key questions the idea has generated

Brian Kerr. Photo: Sportsfile
Brian Kerr. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In a time of change for Irish football, the introduction of a possible all-island league into discussions has added another layer of intrigue.

The people behind the idea sense that the moment to strike is now. But the proposal poses a lot of questions which need to be answered.

What's the pitch?

The idea is to establish a new company to run an all-island league - a merger between the League of Ireland and Irish League. It would involve a new 14-team Premiership with a regionalised Championship North and Championship South below it - both Championship divisions would have 10 teams. At the outset, eight League of Ireland teams and five Irish League teams would make up the top flight with a play-off determining the identity of the other team.

Who is behind the plan?

Tech entrepreneur Kieran Lucid from Kerry is driving the idea. He sold his data consultancy company QuantumKDB for almost €3m in 2016.

Lucid lived in Northern Ireland and made contacts there that opened his eyes to the potential. He established a cross-border underage tournament called The Boyne Cup.

Who is helping him?

His group includes former Ireland boss Brian Kerr, the ex-League of Ireland chair Brendan Dillon, Ciaran Medlar, a partner and tax specialist with accountancy firm BDO who have worked with Irish internationals, former-Glentoran director Stafford Reynolds and Catherine Toolan, the CEO of International Convention Centre in Belfast.

What's the selling point?

Given there are significant political barriers to cross, the hope is that cash will be king. With the domestic game facing problems on both sides of the border, the aim is to produce a commercial offer that's too good to refuse. Lucid's group are speaking of generating revenues in the ballpark of €10m per year, although that may not be the initial starting point. Under that model, the bottom team of the Premier Division would collect around €360,000 in prizemoney which is more than ten times the current rate for an average team.

How would it be funded?

TV revenue is a massive part of the plan. They hope a rebranded league would be attractive to sponsors and Lucid's group say one company has already offered a figure in excess of €1m per year as a starting point and discussions are planned with others. They are also looking for a headline sponsor and a number of official partners and have been enthused by expressions of interest since word of their work leaked out.

Is there any other funding sources?

Another angle which is being actively pursued is individuals and interest groups that provide funding for cross-border reconciliation projects, with the Irish-American market to the fore.

Mayoman Mark Duffy, an independent councillor, is working for Lucid. He has spent the last couple of years based in America and has linked in with former US ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley.

They are looking at the work of the Ireland Funds, a global fundraising network which looks at projects on the island of Ireland.

It was founded by the late Dan Rooney, best known for his association with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Under the heading of Peace & Reconciliation, the Ireland Funds has supported a basketball programme that has brought both sides of the community together.

Would it affect national teams?

There is no plan to affect the independence of the national sides and national associations. Indeed, under the proposal, the FAI Cup and Irish Cup would be retained for southern and northern teams respectively.

What are the timelines?

Lucid wants the new league to kick off in May 2021, and the vision beyond that is that the regular campaign would start in April and end on New Year's Day.

For this to happen, next year's LOI season would need to start late and the Irish League would have to embrace the amended version of a summer season.

That is why Lucid wants clubs to agree to this in the autumn and get the process going.

Is this anything to do with Niall Quinn's consortium?

No. The two groups have met but they are not exactly on the same page at this point. Both have been invited to make a pitch to the FAI.

How would the league be governed?

Lucid's group have studied the Premier League model in England and are looking at a version of their structure. Each Premier side would own four shares (a total of 56) while each Championship club would own one (a total of 20). The company would be registered in Belfast.; Lucid insists control would be handed over by him once it came into being.

How has the idea been received?

Lucid says northern clubs were quicker to embrace the plan and it has proved more of a challenge south of the border but Kerr's presence has helped to open doors while the uncertainty around the FAI has focused minds. There's a road to travel before they agree and get the associations on board.

What happens then?

UEFA are the key player then as they have to give a green light to the plan and also make a decision about how many European places are allotted given that the two leagues currently hold eight between them - although that will drop to seven as the IFA are due to lose one. Belgium and Netherlands have held talks about a merger and there is a feeling that the changing climate in European football might make this idea more palatable.

Irish Independent

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