THE SETANTA Sports Cup will move to weekends when it returns in August, John Delaney confirmed yesterday with the FAI chief executive suggesting the new time slot for games would provide a more accurate reflection of the appetite for an all-Ireland league amongst the island’s football supporters.
Speaking at a press conference to announce the extension of Umbro’s sponsorship of the association yesterday, Delaney denied changes to the timing of games had already created the impression the competition remains something of an afterthought and insisted the chance for teams from different sides of the border to play each other at what might be considered football’s prime-time represents an important opportunity to develop the club game here.
“What you’re doing is looking at different formats and I’d like to think that it has improved from its original. It’s up to nine teams now and if we run with the once every month, trying to get some weekends for the tournament, I think that’s an acid test (of what the reaction might be) if there ever was to be a step to an all-Ireland league type situation. It will be good to see whether there will be support from the public at weekends.”
Niall Cogley, the CEO of Setanta Sports Ireland, agrees, insisting the changes envisaged for this year’s competition represent the latest step in what has been a positive process of evolution for the event, which is now entering its fifth year.
“I think that when we started out we played a big part in selecting Tuesdays and Wednesdays for games because we felt that we could drive audiences on those evenings but obviously they are difficult times to attract large attendances and that doesn’t really help the whole thing,” he says.
“What is important about the move to weekends, we believe, is that the competition will have primacy on those weekends and we feel that that will have a positive impact on its profile.”
There has been speculation that Setanta in Britain will find life very difficult in the wake of its failure to retain both of its Premier league rights packages beyond 2010 and it is believed the company is continuing to explore ways in which a deal might still be struck to secure access to the package it lost out on to Sky while also aiming to cut costs.
Cogley, however, insists events in Britain are unlikely to have any major impact here and that the company remains committed to a competition it helped to create.
“The Irish business has been fairly autonomous for the last few years,” he says. “Of course, we’re related to the mothership and what they do affects us, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that anything there will interfere with our commitment to the Setanta Sports Cup.
“It’s never been something that was a big driver for us but it has always been something very nice to have in the schedule and I think that will continue. Now, there isn’t a business in Ireland that will look in six months time the way it did six months ago and like everyone we’re looking at costs but it’s not on our agenda. In many ways it symbolises what we do and what we are about.”
The proposed scheme for this year involves the competition, which will initially comprise of three groups of three teams, running from August until November and then breaking until the spring when the latter stages and final will be played.
The shift has generally been seen as a concession to Irish League clubs, two of which, Linfield and Glentoran, were critical of the event’s organising committee and, in particular its chairman, Mylo Corcoran, last year.
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