This weekend see's the final round of group games in the Setanta Cup where three of four teams will progress to the semi-finals of the all-Ireland tournament. St Pat's Athletic head north to Belfast as they face-off against Irish League runners-up Linfield, in what should be an 'All-or-Nothing' encounter. Following last week's 1-1 draw at Richmond Park it's hard to know what way the game will swing, but I'd expect home advantage to push the Blues over the finishing line - which Sligo Rovers so far are the only one's to cross.
However, the pick of the clashes will be in the Dublin suburb of Phibsboro where Irish League champions Glentoran travel south of the border to meet League of Ireland champions Bohemians at Dalymount Park. The former home of international football in the Republic will play host to a near-capacity crowd as will it's current home, at Croke Park, which should also be full of northern soul come Saturday afternoon as Ireland's rugby team take on Wales - a double-whammy for the Ulster support amongst the travelling Glentoran contingent, no doubt.
The East Belfast men will be out for revenge following their 2-1 defeat at the Oval in December. However, the 'Cock n Hens', who are under new management in the rookie Scott Young, will know they can still do what is required of them. With the 'Gypsies' progression in the competition guaranteed, there is a fair chance it will be against a weakened Bohemian FC. But with the League of Ireland season only just under way, there will be players on the fringes looking to impress their manager - ex-Linfield player - Pat Fenlon.
This will be my second time at Dalymount Park, having had the "unique" experience of sitting amongst the fans of Boh's Dublin rivals... Shamrock Rovers. It wasn't a good night for ' The Hoops' in that clash last season with Boh's winning 2-0, and by all accounts the post-match riots on the city's O'Connell Bridge produced a similar result. Legion 1882, you have met your match.
The Future of the Setanta Cup...
Ticket allocation for the Glens was set at 1,000 although with popularity of the all-Irish competition fading rapidly this season, I wouldn't be surprised if the away support is closer to 500 come kick-off. There have been various calls for a massive overhaul of the Setanta Cup. I would agree with that. First stage of the overhaul would be to remove the FAI from any kind of power. This would eliminate the potential of making a mockery of the competition (see last year's Setanta Cup Final fiasco). Playing cup final's on opposing team's grounds make it a home game for the opposing team. IFA take note.
The current Setanta Cup format involves:
- 4 teams (Irish League, NI)
- 5 teams (League of Ireland, ROI)
- 3 groups of 3.
- 3 winner's progress to Semi Final.
- 1 (best) runner-up progress to Semi-Final.
- Final venue decided by FAI/IFA (alternating years)
The basic concept is certainly there, but the teacher's report to the organising committee would be "could do better". There is the possiblity that the competition could revert to a plain and simple 'knock-out' tournament which would open matches up to teams lower down in their domestic leagues. We could be kicking-off this new format with Larne heading to Limerick and Athlone going to Ards. Then, as with the FA Cup in England, the big teams could then enter the competition at a later stage.
But of course, money would play a huge part in such plans for these clubs. As we have seen this season with the unfortunate demise Cork City and Derry City, money is scarce at the bigger Irish clubs too. Both club's eviction from the Setanta Cup hasn't helped the competition's credibility in the slightest, although in fairness Setanta can't be blamed for a club's financial troubles. Infact, their willingness to stick by the all-Ireland competition in such dire times must be commended, especially as the broadcaster itself can't be making that much money from two poorly supported leagues on the island. Shame on you EPL and SPL armchair 'fans'!
Also, in order to avoid the sheer bias on either associations part, let Setanta choose the venue for their 'prestigious final' once the two teams have been decided. The FAI's last-ditch attempt to pump money into a dying Cork City FC by handing them home advantage at the last minute in the 2009 final was wreckless, and did nothing to convince me and many other local football enthusiasts that this island is ready for an 'All-Ireland League'.
Until then, a revamped Setanta Cup will suffice.
Saturday evening's game between Boh's and Glens, which is being billed as "The Battle of the Champions - Part Deux", will be televised on Setanta Ireland from 5:15pm.
Glamour friendly: ROI face Brazil in London, England
The mighty Brazil are in London town for what's being billed as the 'glamour friendly' of this weeks international fixtures. However, the game itself which is set to take place at Arsenal FC's Emirates Stadium, won't see the 'Boys from Brazil' up against England. Instead Giovanni Trappatoni's Republic of Ireland team will be the 'acting hosts' for the night. It's not the first time an English stadium has been used by the Irish for friendly matches, and seems to be an increasing trend which will be no doubt be warmly welcomed amongst the UK's ever-expanding Irish community.
The decision to play the game in London should of course also go down well amongst the following 10 (ten) UK-born contingent in the Republic's squad...
Keiran Westwood (Manchester, England)
Kevin Kilbane (Preston, England)
Kevin Foley (Luton, England)
Sean St Ledger (Birmingham, England)
Marc Wilson (Armagh, NI)
Aiden McGeady (Glasgow, Scotland)
Darron Gibson (Derry, NI)
James McCarthy (Glasgow, Scotland)
Liam Lawrence (Nottingham, England)
Leon Best (Nottingham, England)
Aside from almost half of the Republic's squad, the United Kingdom's other connection to Ireland is of course Northern Ireland. The Green and White Army (the fans) face a truly ugly friendly match in comparison to their Southern cousins. Albania are the opposition, and the capital Tirana can expect a wave of green and white on Wednesday night as Northern Ireland (the team) are in town. It is a game which, no matter how unattractive, is a useful workout for Nigel Worthington's men. A vast improvement in the side's away form is a neccisity ahead of the upcoming Euro 2012 Qualifiers in September.
Both Irish sides face very different tests, but nevertheless, can expect two tough matches. One, against the silky samba skills of Brazil where Aiden McGeady should feel at home. The other, an unknown quantity in Albania - and an unpredictable Northern Ireland on the road.
Albania vs NI is available on BBC red button
ROI vs Brazil is available on Sky Sports
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