Monday, April 30, 2007


Observers of the Irish League are presently enduring a groundhog moment as recrimination is heaped upon accusation, accompanied by allegation, followed by investigation. But I am not going to dip my sensitive bits into that mess.

While Linfield were collecting the Gibson Cup for the 47th time, Ronnie McFall, the wizened Portadown boss was giving the Sunday Life newspaper some filler. The esteemed Mister McFall has been managing at the highest level in Northern Ireland for as many years as aul' Mr. Brennan has been making radio ads, so his insights are not to be dismissed lightly.

He expressed his disappointment at not qualifying for European competition next season; the Ports finished in 4th spot, just one win away from Intertoto Cup action. He also expressed his delight at failing to qualify for the Setanta Cup; "I'm glad we are not in it because it doesn't generally help Irish League clubs with the timing of the competition. There is no doubt in my mind that it contributed to our downfall in the title race and a break from it might prove to be what we need next season."

I had to take the precaution of reading that statement a second time. What is happening in the Irish League? Eddie Patterson seemed determined all season that his side would not win the Gibson Cup, Portadown don't want to qualify for the Setanta Cup and Glentoran's squad just don't seem interested.

Reds fans will be quick to pounce in defence of their Jurassic leader; is there any sense in what he says? If one is taking a blinkered view, yes. Without the distraction of the Setanta Group matches the Ports may well have sustained their league challenge a little longer, but they would still have had to do so without the services of defensive cotter pin John Convery. Although, if we were to follow Ronnie's logic, were they to achieve success it would be tarnished with qualification for the Setanta Cup in 2008. This presents me with an excellent opportunity to use the word dichotomy.

That felt good. In fairness to Mr. McFall he is not the first Irish League supremo to question the timing of the tournament; and there may well be room for compromise on that score. Given the collapse of Portadown's effort this year, the sponsors are sure to review the situation in order to retain the interest in, and vitality of the competition.

Where Europe is concerned, since 1990 they have failed to qualify on only 6 occasions. In 22 games the Reds have managed just 8 goals, conceding 64 in the process. Not a single leg did they win, mustering the unimpressive total of three draws along the way. How is that better than qualifying for the Setanta Cup?


It is widely acknowledged in the game that every manager is striving constantly to improve his playing squad. There are necessary constraints, ask any Leeds United fan. But any IL or eircom League manager who is wooing a player can use Setanta qualification as a carrot. Players want to be involved in big games, receiving television exposure, and on this island any help the domestic game can get is welcome. of course, the bigger clubs will always have greater playing resources; Drogheda United and Linfield are the envy of their respective counterparts. So should we all just give up on trying to compete with them?

Then there's Dungannon Swifts, a 'smaller' club; they coped admirably with the demands placed upon them and their profile has increased greatly as a result. Both Cork City and St. Pats failed to beat them on their own turf; in the meantime they have achieved an Irish Cup Semi- Final appearance for the first time in their history, followed by an appearance in the Final itself. I've no doubt Harry Fay would be happy to expose his players to the highly competitive environment again in order to continue their footballing education.

Ronnie McFall, a man with the public image of Bad Santa, may well be peed off with the Setanta Cup, but I have enjoyed two top class semi-final games and am eagerly anticipating an intriguing final encounter. At least the Ports boss won't need to renew his subscription to the emerging sports channel for next year.

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