'We're slipping further back' - Brian Kerr on why an All Island League can save soccer on both sides of the border

Plan could help reverse falling standards in domestic game, insists Kerr

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Sombre: Brian Kerr watches St Pat’s take on Derry City during the Inchicore side’s 2-0 defeat at Richmond Park on Monday night. STEPHEN McCARTHY/SPORTSFILE

Sombre: Brian Kerr watches St Pat’s take on Derry City during the Inchicore side’s 2-0 defeat at Richmond Park on Monday night. STEPHEN McCARTHY/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Sombre: Brian Kerr watches St Pat’s take on Derry City during the Inchicore side’s 2-0 defeat at Richmond Park on Monday night. STEPHEN McCARTHY/SPORTSFILE

Brian Kerr feels the League of Ireland has gone backwards in terms of football standards in the last decade and has argued that the proposed All-Island League is the best method of reversing the decline.

And the Dubliner has argued that it would benefit both national sides on the island if the idea came to fruition.

The topic is set to be one of the things on the agenda when the new FAI board outline future strategy plans in Abbotstown today.

Kerr is part of the wider group set up by Kerry businessman Kieran Lucid to try and make the vision a reality and he is hopeful that the Irish Football Association (IFA) in Belfast will grant the wishes of clubs who want a letter sent to UEFA - even though the northern ruling body has voiced opposition to the plans.

All 10 League of Ireland top-flight sides and 10 out of their 12 Northern Irish counterparts have signed a letter to UEFA with a view to finding out if they would agree to a hybrid model which would see the leagues stay independent for a portion of the season before adding a cross-border element to the climax. The hope is that European places would be preserved.

"The fact that 20 of the 22 clubs have come out strongly to take the action of signing a letter to the two associations is really quite amazing," said Kerr.

Desire

"It's in the hands of the two associations and UEFA now to make the next moves and see where it goes.

"You would think the IFA would need to respond to the desire of the clubs for further discussions and Niall (Quinn) has said that the FAI will discuss it with you (media) on Wednesday because they haven't said very much on it lately."

Kerr has stressed that unifying the national sides is not a part of the vision.

Lucid has worked hard to make this point when commentators have attempted to link the cross-border plan with a 32-county national team - a move that would be a significant red flag to sections of the Irish League community.

"From the start, Kieran was very strong in pointing out that our idea was not to interfere with the international teams," said Kerr.

"I met Michael O'Neill (then Northern Ireland manager) in the very early stages of this and explained that one of the positives from this would be better players for the international teams for both countries coming from their underage structures and the ambition to play in a better league more likely to stay at home for longer, more likely to be in a competitive environment, better European results, more rounded players, tactically, physically and psychologically better.

"So a big plus for the international teams. There would be absolutely no interference whatsoever, except in a positive manner."

Kerr disputed a recent column by League of Ireland veteran Conan Byrne, who is now in the Irish League with Glenavon, where he argued that now would not be the right time to proceed with the plan.

He argued that the league had made steps forward on the pitch in the last ten years and Kerr disagrees, pointing to European performances and a drop in the league's ranking from 29th to 44th.

"I want our teams not to be playing in the first and second round in Europe. We're going further and further back no matter what anyone says," he said.

"League of Ireland teams are being beaten easily by teams from the lower rankings.

"We've got to get away from that but we are actually getting worse rather than better apart from the odd little time when someone makes a burst like Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.

"We've gone away from ten years ago when, consistently, teams were all capable of winning a couple of rounds and we were beating the Swedish teams on a regular basis.

"We're slipping down, we're slipping further behind many of the middle-ranking teams that we should be up with and we've got to get to that level.

"I want to see football better here, I want to see us having better players, better coaches; the game developed and participation increased.

"I want to enjoy going to matches, I want to admire the quality of it, I want to be delighted that there's huge participation in the game and I think a new All-Island League with different values and different standards would help to see those things happen.

"I think young kids would aspire to be part of it more than they do now. They go there now because that's just the way it is, the League of Ireland clubs are busy to get you in to them but I would like there to be a situation where they're saying: 'I want to be there, I want to play in that league that has good crowds, a high profile, that players are going into the international teams from, that fellas are being sold for millions from rather than a thousand and that money is going back into the game'."

Kerr said that Lucid's groups were not dissuaded from progressing with talks despite the stern opposition from the IFA top brass.

"There was never despondency about the IFA's statements from the group I was involved in.

"We kind of expected that that would be the way because we had a couple of meetings that I was at where I didn't get a great vibe of, 'We'd really like this to happen'," he continued.

"We've always felt that the clubs were very supportive and that was the most important thing and the process has been going on a good while now very steadily.

"In terms of some of the difficulties around the Uefa places and the retention of the competitions that seem to be quite precious to some clubs and some people, it's a magnificent compromise option."

Irish Independent