Football/Soccer

All-island league would help produce better players says new Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough, who previously managed League of Ireland outfit Sligo Rovers, can see the benefits to both international teams of an all-island league. Picture by Pacemaker
Neil Loughran

NORTHERN Ireland boss Ian Baraclough admits he sees the potential benefits of an all-island league, and has backed Brian Kerr’s claim that it would ultimately produce better quality players for both international teams.

Former Republic of Ireland manager Kerr is a strong advocate of the proposals put forward by Kerry entrepreneur Kieran Lucid last year, and previously met with Baraclough’s predecessor Michael O’Neill to discuss the concept.

Having enjoyed a successful spell in charge of Sligo Rovers from 2012-2014, Baraclough – who stepped up from the Northern Ireland U21s to replace O’Neill earlier this summer - is well aware of the domestic scene in the League of Ireland and the Irish Premiership.

And, although the Irish Football Association has already rebuffed proposals for an all-island league, Baraclough can see the plus points.

“Clearly if you’re playing in a league that’s more competitive from top to bottom… you’ve got eight, nine, 10 teams who are pretty much on a par, it’s going to breed better players,” he said.

“You’re going to get a better quality of game out on the park, players are going to improve quicker, you’ll probably find more players going to a higher level as in England/Scotland, and it’ll improve both international teams for sure.

“It’ll give you a bigger pool of players to choose from, and I see a benefit in it. But it’s got to work for everybody financially as well - you can’t just have the top teams going away from everybody and then all of a sudden certain teams are being left behind.

“It’s got to be right for everybody, but I’m sure there can be some sort of format that brings everybody into the mix and can be a really good league for north and south to produce players.”

Baraclough was the last manager to lift the cross-border Setanta Cup when Sligo defeated Dundalk in the 2014 decider, but he feels the gap has closed between the League of Ireland and the Irish Premiership in the years between.

“I'm probably in as good a position as anyone to judge that because when I was in charge of Sligo we would have come up against teams from the north in the Setanta Cup.

"There was more of a gap then than there is now with the likes of Linfield, Glentoran, Cliftonville, Crusaders, Larne… there are more teams now that can be on a par if not better than the teams in the south like Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk.

"I think younger players are being given more of a chance at clubs here. Again, I've seen that develop over the last three years with the U21s.

"There are players playing here who over the next few years have a chance of getting across the water to England and Scotland and make a good career for themselves. We've already seen Joel Cooper make that jump off the back of Mark Sykes, Gavin Whyte and others.

"There are more who can do that but again they have to have the mindset that just getting over there is the be-all and end-all, it's about staying there and making a career for themselves.

“The likes of Stuart Dallas having coming from Crusaders to then play for Brentford, he's now a Premier League player. He's now a senior player within the national set-up and that's come from where he was with Crusaders and even the junior clubs he played for. He's made that transition with hard work.

"He's got talent, but he has used that talent and he's now a role model for those playing over here.”

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Football/Soccer