With the news that the draw for the quarter-finals of the Setanta Sports Cup – which was due to take place today – has been postponed question marks surround the positives of staging the tournament at all.
According to the BBC, the reasoning behind the postponement is said to surround fixture scheduling problems.
Linfield have pulled out of the competition altogether for the second year in a row, citing the timing of the competition as the main factor in their withdrawal.
A statement from Linfield released yesterday said,
“This club’s players will only be beginning their return to pre-season training on June 16, after a well-earned close-season break.
“With the first of these Setanta Cup games scheduled to commence on June 20, this club is of the view that it would be too difficult in such a short period for players to reach the required level and condition of match-fitness, so soon after returning to pre-season training, to enable them to take part in a major competitive game against a leading team from the Republic of Ireland that will be in full-flow, in the middle of their domestic season.”
Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer told the BBC that his club wishes to take part but that he believes the tournament is ‘geared towards the League of Ireland clubs.’
The timing of this competition has always been something of a sticking point but it was always outweighed by the prospect of major prize money and at least some degree of fan-fare; both of which have appeared to dissipate in recent seasons.
Similar to the FAI Cup, which bends around the summer fixtures, the Setanta Sports Cup has always been a difficult competition to squeeze into a tight schedule, along with both league’s operating at different times of the year.
With such problems, and dwindling interest in the competition, one must question is it worth competing?
For League of Ireland clubs, this year’s competition comes at one of the busiest periods in the calendar with European games, along with league matches making for a major fixture headache.
As alluded to above by Linfield’s statement, the fact that the competition has been organised for what is their pre-season doesn’t suit either.
In the early days of the competition, it similarly encroached on League of Ireland sides’ pre-seasons, as it began in February, and now the same is happening to Irish League clubs.
Finances are also a concern, with question marks now over whether it’s worth sacrificing the fatigue of a squad for paltry sums of prize money.
The Belfast Telegraph reports that in 2005, when Linfield won the inaugural competition, they received £100,000 for winning the title, however the entire prize money this season only amounts to £55,000.
The finances aren’t the only disincentive for sides competing this year, with crowds plummeting and overall interest appearing to have dropped to new lows.
Last season’s final between what would be considered two League of Ireland heavyweights – Dundalk & Sligo Rovers – attracted just 2,600 spectators to Tallaght Stadium. In comparison, the Lilywhites’ league clash just two weeks ago against Cork City saw nigh on 7,000 fans arrive through the Turner’s Cross gates.
Yes, this was a high-profile game between the league’s first and second-placed sides, but from an outsider’s perspective a final between the two best sides on the island should have a bit more glamour about it.
So the question remains, is it worth it?
This writer believes there is a future out there somewhere for this All-Ireland competition to flourish, as it did at times in its infancy, but we are now left with the future of the Setanta Sports Cup up in the air due to a lack of interest in recent years from fans, financial incentives decreasing as well as this week’s negative news.
It may be difficult to change the unpromising trajectory this cup’s future is currently heading in, but if comprises can be made, and financial incentives increased it certainly has a future.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena.