All-Ireland league must be properly planned for - Paddy McLaughlin

Michael McCrudden grabbed a hat-trick for Cliftonville in Saturday's big win over Warrenpoint at Milltown Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

Danske Bank Premiership: Warrenpoint Town 0 Cliftonville 5

WITH newspaper reports renewing talk of Irish unity – on the soccer pitch – Paddy McLaughlin can see the appeal of the prospect, but the Cliftonville manager insists such a proposal must be thought through thoroughly in advance.

Yesterday’s Sunday Life reported that both the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association are experiencing a change of heart on proposals for an All-Ireland league, inspired partly be developments elsewhere in Europe.

An ‘insider’ source was quoted as suggesting, “Uefa want to encourage improved standards in weaker leagues and this [an All-Ireland league] is potentially one avenue they feel can deliver” that.

Derry city native McLaughlin spent a decade playing in the League of Ireland with both his home town club and Finn Harps and can see the positives of having one league on the island.

“I played in the South for a load of years and I really enjoyed it,” the Reds boss said.

“Playing in the summer, the good weather attracts bigger crowds and it’s the same with training, it’s more appealing to the players. An all-Ireland league makes sense on many levels, certainly to the wider public.

“But if Irish League teams think we have a competitive set-up at the minute, they’ll think again when they’re playing the likes of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers every week. The set-up we have now, Linfield are almost guaranteed to be playing in Europe every season, Glentoran are thinking they can do the same, but that won’t be the case in an All-Ireland league.

“So while the idea is appealing, it’s important that any new arrangement is thought through properly before it’s put in place.”

While McLaughlin is of the opinion that Irish League clubs are currently playing catch-up with their southern counterparts, he is confident that the likes of Cliftonville could thrive in a new national set-up, given time.

“A lot of League of Ireland clubs are definitely ahead of us – they are training during the day, many of them in custom-made gyms. And while that transition from part-time to full-time isn’t beyond the likes of Cliftonville, it’s not something you can do overnight.

“If you look at Larne, it took them a couple of years to make that transition from part-time to full-time successfully. But if you want to compete, you have to do what they’re doing in the South and at the same level.

“I’d like to think Cliftonville could thrive in that type of environment and match what other clubs are doing. We’d definitely be well supported all around the country.”

More immediately, Cliftonville swept aside the challenge of Warrenpoint on Saturday thanks to a Michael McCrudden hat-trick, a Ryan Curran penalty and a late effort from Dáire O’Connor.

The Reds are back in action against Dungannon tomorrow and McLaughlin knows all is still to play for in the race for a top-three spot.

“A lot of the top six all play each other in the coming weeks and you are going to see a lot of movement in the table. We have the likes of the Glens and the Crues coming up and we need to make sure we stay in the mix.”

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