Football/Soccer

All-Island League will lead to international success for North and Republic, says Brian Kerr

James McClean came through the League of Ireland before going on to play for the Republic of Ireland
Andy Watters

BRIAN Kerr met with former Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill to discuss the concept of an All-Island League and convince him that it would produce better quality players for both international teams.

The likes of James McClean (Derry City) and Stuart Dallas (Crusaders) graduated to international football after spells in the island's two domestic leagues and Kerr, who managed the Republic of Ireland at youth and senior level, is convinced that an All-Island structure will improve the quality of football and individual players and pay dividends in more success for Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“I met Michael O'Neill in the very early stages of this and explained that one of the positives would be better players for the international teams for both countries coming from their underage structures,” he explained.

“The ambition to play in a better league (would mean young players would be) 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.”

Kerr has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project since its inception and has been involved in planning it. He is convinced that bringing the Irish League and the League of Ireland together under one umbrella will improve standards on and off the pitch.

“I want to see football better here, I want to see us having better players and better coaches,” said the former Faroe Islands manager.

“I want to see the game developed and participation increased. They are the things that interest me about football – the quality of football, the development of young players, the development of coaches, the quality of the game that is being played at a higher level and the quality of our international team – the ability to win matches.

“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, that the stands are nice, that the toilets are nice, that the facilities and bars are nice…

“I want excitement, 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. 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 Rovers and Dundalk. We’ve gone away from 10 years ago when, consistently, Cork, Derry, Pat’s, Drogheda, Bohs, Shels 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.”

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Football/Soccer