Opinion

This year has seen two Danske Bank Premiership Clubs take part, once again, in the Irn Bru Cup. Crusaders went out in round two to Scottish Championship side Queen Of the South, whilst Coleraine went down in round three to Welsh Premier League side Connah’s Quay Nomad’s.

Irn Bru Cup

The Scottish Professional Football Challenge Cup, commonly known as the Scottish League Challenge Cup or Scottish Challenge Cup. To date, it is known as the Irn Bru cup (due to sponsorship reasons).

Invited teams from Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Republic of Ireland enter into the competition at round two. The Second round consists of 32 clubs:

  • 2 clubs from the Northern Ireland Football League Crusaders & Coleraine).
  • 2 clubs from the Welsh Premier League (The New Saints & Connah’s Quay Nomad’s).
  • 2 clubs from the League of Ireland Premier Division (Bohemians & Sligo Rovers) 2 clubs from the English National League (Sutton United & Boreham Wood).
  • The 24 winners from the first round of matches.

Financial Benefits 

With a prize fund of £300,000 plus broke down between the clubs it seems that for the Irish League Teams, there is some much-needed income to be had. The Scottish football league has broken financial packages down to help keep the competition interesting. (As described in the next few paragraphs).

All teams that travel across the Irish Sea to play a game in the 2017/18 breakdown would have received up to £5000 in travel costs. This year it is being reported in different outlets that this has risen. The SPFL have not replied to confirm the legitimacy of this. The amount paid would cover a lot of the travel expenses for clubs.

Sides that don’t go over the Irish Sea, but travel more than 500 miles receive up to £3500. For some clubs, this is more than enough but if a Northern Irish team drew against a team that was in the back end of nowhere I am sure there would be the additional cost of Hotels to take into consideration. 

Teams that got knocked out in the second round of matches receive £6000, “Crusaders”. So for the Crues this season it was travel costs plus the money for competing. Nice return as they only had to travel to Dumfries.

Teams that got knocked out in the third round of matches received £8000, “Coleraine”. Coleraine made the long journey to Wales for their latest tie. Was the travel bounty enough? I do not have the answers. 

Logistically Feasible?

The travel that is put on the teams and the support can be immense. For much travelled Irish league fans, as we like to call ourselves, a quick one hour journey up or down the M1 or M2 is an away day. This competition takes us into a different territory. 

Last season saw Crusaders travel to Cove Rangers (in the North East of Scotland), Dundee and Inverness. Now looking at a map it does not take a brain surgeon to work out that there is a little piece of planning to go on. For the fans, playing a club in the Highlands with a Sunday Evening kickoff was not a bright proposition! One flight a day from Inverness to Belfast and with a three and a half journey to Glasgow Airport you can see the problems starting to pile up. Now Inverness is a beautiful city take nothing away from that, and it was a great weekend, but all of that is not cheap. To get a boat you’re looking at an eight-hour coach ride from the port of Cairnryan.

This season saw Crusaders run a travel club to Dumfries for there tie with Queen Of The South. Great day out for the supporters with a cheap option. Bus to the ground, bus back home (via the fiery and a broken down bus of course).

From a team perspective. Is it right for a team going to play at this level to have been travelling from 0600 in the morning? Professionally no it doesn’t happen. For the clubs from the Irish League its “suck it up and get on with it”. Hotels to book and working out the flights or boats becomes awkward. Games get delayed because of a result of transport issues. The logistics go on and on for the clubs.

Pull Of The Opposition 

Now in terms of teams from Northern Ireland, most of the teams are Semi-Professional teams. Training two nights a week. This year Crusaders have come out and declared they gone to a more professional approach, but it is still a million miles away from the clubs that are in full-time training. The opposition is strong and hard and it is a great place for the young talent from the North Of Ireland to go showcase themselves. Personally, as a fan, I would have liked to see more involvement from teams in the Scottish top division. 

Scottish Premier League clubs enter their colts teams (under 20s) in round one. As a fan of football and the Irish league, it would be great for one of these top teams to make the journey across the water. Not the under 20’s. It would also be good for the fan to travel and visit one of the stadia and enjoy the day, the atmosphere and the different football cultures. For the team a great opportunity to put themselves up against some top professional players. 

Fixture Back Log

The games are played on a weekend. The weekend still has a full list of Irish League games to be played. Unless you have one player that has been called up for a Northern Ireland under 21 competition, “that seems to an excuse for a weekend off”. This then produces a fixture backlog. Crusaders went all the way to the semifinals last year and were run right to the wire last season by Coleraine. Playing catch up with the fixtures at this level isn’t smart or funny. 

Conclusion

For the fans a great competition to go and experience. A day in a new place, new town or city and maybe take in a weekend break. See a different level of football and enjoy the atmosphere. On the downside, a trip to a Premiership club or even seeing one of the big clubs come to the North of Ireland would be something else, “a financial bonus I am sure for the clubs”. Logistically crazy at times but can be made to work. The better standard can only be beneficial to the players from a training and progression perspective. The money that can be made, and in the dark worlds of Irish League Clubs and their finances, this will be the main reason they are involved. 

Lots to ponder. Take away your own thoughts. Personally, is it worth it? Not really! Just get on with what we need to do to win a league title, qualify for Europe and reap the rewards for doing it.