League of Ireland and Irish League champions to face off in new cross-border Champions Cup

Thu, May 09 2019

Linfield were involved the last time teams from the two leagues faced each other in competitive action, as Cork City won 2-0 on aggregate in the Europa League in 2016. Credit: Eoin Smith (ETPhotos)

The winners of the League of Ireland Premier Division will take on Irish Premiership champions annually for the next three years in a new cross-border Champions Cup.

Details were confirmed on Thursday in a joint release between the FAI and IFA of the ‘Unite the Union’ Cup to take place over two legs following the conclusion of the League of Ireland season.

Reigning Irish League champions Linfield will contest the first final in November against the winners of this season’s Premier Division, which concludes in late October.

The cup, sponsored by the trade union Unite, will offer a €75,000 prize pot between the two teams as well as committing an additional €25,000 to community projects.

FAI competitions director Fran Gavin made reference to an agreement for such a competition at the league launch in February, which was followed by a strong denial from Irish League clubs.

It’s the first cross-border competition to take place between the two leagues since the dissolution of the Setanta Sports Cup in 2015.

The Setanta Sports Cup ran for nine season between 2005 and 2014 but was suspended in 2015 and cancelled the following year following multiple withdrawals by Irish League sides.

2017 saw League of Ireland sides join teams from the Irish League, Wales and Scotland in the cross-border Irn-Bru Challenge Cup, which saw English sides enter the following year.

"We're delighted to formally announce the Unite the Union Champions Cup and we're extremely excited for the competition to begin,” said Gavin.

"I'd like to thank the IFA, in particular Patrick Nelson, who have been fantastic to work with on the project and it's great to see a cross-border tournament return.

“The clubs and players in the SSE Airtricity League are incredibly excited to see a competition like this back on the domestic calendar.

"I'd also like to thank Unite, in particular Brendan Ogle and his colleagues, for their sponsorship of the tournament and the community work they're committed to as part of the competition, both north and south of the border.

“It's a unique sponsorship and we're looking forward to help promote Unite's equality agenda."

IFA CEO Patrick Nelson added: “This is a fantastic new cross-border competition and one that I am sure will capture the imagination of football fans right across the island of Ireland.

“I would like to thank Unite the Union for their sponsorship, especially for ring-fencing a significant sum for community projects.

“This is a competition that will bring people together and one that will have lasting benefits for clubs as well as fans.”

Brendan Ogle, Unite’s senior officer in the Republic of Ireland, said: “"Our union has a strong anti-sectarian and anti-racist ethos, and we support gender and sexual equality campaigns.

“We salute the work done by civil society organisations to tackle racism in sport, and we hope to work with such groups to promote equality and diversity through the Champions Cup.

"Local communities and local clubs need support now more than ever, and Unite wants to provide some of that support while sending a clear message: we can celebrate our own identities while respecting others."