Region = North-South
The Blaxnit Cup was the third version of a competition for teams from the Irish League and the League of Ireland. It was started in the 1967/1968 season and ran for seven years until the 1973/1974 season. Considering that the last few seasons saw possibly the worst of The Troubles in Northern Ireland it probably did quite well to last that long. Matches took place during weekend evenings and many spectators did not feel safe travelling to or from grounds at those times. It was open to four teams from both the Irish League and the League of Ireland.
The format comprised a first round, a semi-final and a two-legged final. The first competition was won by Shamrock Rovers who defeated Crusaders 3 – 2 on aggregate. Probably due to the situation in Northern Ireland at the time, the number of teams was reduced to one from each association for the 1971/1972 and 1972/1973 seasons with just a two-legged final. For the 1973/1974 season it went back to the original format except that the final was just one match.
The competition was sponsored by ‘Blaxnit’ which was a trade name of Black and Company, a knitwear company based in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. Quite appropriately the last competition was won by the town’s football team Ards who defeated Ballymena United 3 – 1 in the final.
Champions Cup (Unite the Union)
The Champions Cup was the seventh, and latest, version of a competition for teams from the Irish League and the League of Ireland. It was sponsored by the trade union Unite. The aim was to match together the league champions of the previous season from both jurisdictions. It was a two-legged affair with the aggregate score deciding the winner. The first season was 2019/2020 and Linfield from the Irish League were paired with Dundalk from the League of Ireland. After an even 1 – 1 draw at Windsor Park, Dundalk won a very one-sided second leg 6 – 0 to win the trophy. When the details for the competition had been announced, the reception from would-be spectators could possibly have been described as lukewarm. However the winners would get 50,000 euro and the runners-up 25,000 euro. The teams were not going to turn their noses up at these figures! A further 25,000 euro would be split between community-based projects in the clubs’ local areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic ensured that the 2020/2021 competition would not take place. However in November 2020 it was announced that the respective league champions from the previous season, Linfield and Shamrock Rovers, would be joined in a four-team tournament in 2021/2022 by the runners-up from both leagues. The good news was that the sponsorship money not paid out in the 2020/2021 season would be rolled into the prize money for the 2021/2022 competition. The bad news was that the 2021/2022 competition did not take place because of scheduling issues.
Dublin and Belfast Inter-City Cup
This was a North-South knock-out competition for teams in the IFA and the FAI. Rather oddly, it might seem, it began in the 1941/1942 season – right in the middle of the Second World War! Six teams from each jurisdiction were invited. All matches were to be played in either Dublin or Belfast. In fact all of the Dublin matches were played at Dalymount Park. It would seem that the idea was to entertain the footballing audience during difficult times.
The competition was popular and ran for eight seasons until 1949. For most of the seasons each tie comprised two legs with the aim being to share the games between the two capital cities. There was even one occurrence, in a later round, when Glentoran played Distillery in Dublin! It wasn’t necessarily bad news if a team lost in the first round, however, as the two ‘best losers’ still progressed to the quarter-finals.
Dundalk were the first winners defeating Shamrock Rovers in the 1941/1942 season. After that Shamrock Rovers went on to dominate the competition winning it four times including the final 1948/1949 season. Northern teams were successful too with Glentoran winning it in 1943/1944. The trophy was shared between Belfast Celtic and Distillery in 1947/1948.
Do you remember when you played football as a kid and you had the ‘three corners are a penalty’ rule? Well if a tie finished level on aggregate after the two legs the aggregate total of CORNERS was used to determine the winner. The 1942/1943 final between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers was one example! A thought for the future perhaps?
Irish News Cup
The Irish News Cup was introduced in the 1995/1996 season as yet another North/South competition. More correctly known as the Irish News North West Cup it initially featured, as the name suggests, teams from the North and West of both jurisdictions. Gradually it was expanded to cover more teams but the capital cities of Belfast and Dublin were not represented. It was sponsored by the Irish News and lasted for four seasons.
The winning teams were evenly split with two from the Irish League and two from the League of Ireland. Coleraine were the first winners, followed by Derry City (representing the LOI), Omagh Town and finally Finn Harps.
The first season featured two teams from the North and two from the South. It was a two-legged knock-out for both the semi-finals and final. For the second season four teams from each country entered with two-legged ties again held. This time there was an initial round and then the semi-finals and a final. The format was again altered for the third season with the initial round only having one match for each team. Only three matches were held at this stage with Coleraine joining in for the semi-final. For the final season four new teams were introduced for the initial round with four other teams getting byes into quarter-finals. These games, together with the semi-finals and final were decided in a single game. This all seems like an exercise in complication to me! Even the stage of the season at which these games took place varied from year to year.
The North-South Cup was the first variant in the series of competitions between teams from the Irish League and the League of Ireland. It started in the 1960/1961 season but only ran for two seasons. In actual fact it really ran for three seasons as the majority of matches in season two had to be held over until the 1962/1963 season. Four teams from each league entered the first competition. A two-legged initial round knock-out format led to semi-finals and a final – both over two legs. Fixture congestion at the end of the first season led to the final being delayed until well into the second season with Linfield defeating Glentoran 7 – 1 on aggregate. This win was one of Linfield’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ trophies that season.
No sooner had the previous season’s winners become known that the matches for the current season started. This time, four teams competed in the first round with the two winners joining six other teams (who had received byes) in this quarter-final stage. However only two of the matches had been able to take place before fixture congestion again called a halt until the following season. This time Glenavon triumphed beating Shelbourne 2 – 1 on aggregate.
It was a valiant attempt to get a cross-border competition running. However it should be borne in mind that six other competitions were in progress in Northern Ireland at that time. Also bear in mind also that drawn matches in knock-out competitions went to replays, sometimes more than one. Fixture congestion was a constant problem for the League in those days.
Setanta Sports Cup
The Setanta (Sports) Cup was probably the most successful and popular North-South competition. There were a number of reasons for this. First of all it was backed by an Irish television channel and they initially agreed to back it for four years with cash sponsorship of 1.6 million euro. Secondly, being a TV channel, they decided to broadcast most of the matches live. This was an attractive proposition for supporters who would normally travel to away matches. A trip from Coleraine to Cork, for example, would be over 300 miles with a driving time of five and a half hours! Who would fancy that on a wet Tuesday night in February? Thirdly, by 2004 when the competition started, peace had ‘broken out’ in Northern Ireland and teams and spectators felt safer travelling around the island. Lastly it had been more than 20 years since the last North-South competition and the appetite was clearly there to get the concept restarted.
Matches in the 2007/2008 season actually stretched into the 2008/2009 season as far as the Irish League teams were concerned with the final not being held until November 2008. The competition lasted for another five years until the 2013/2014 season. The event was not without its problems. In June 2009 Setanta went into administration and TV coverage stopped. This put its future in doubt but after a short stutter it was able to restart.
By the time the competition started, football in the Republic of Ireland had moved to a summer schedule. It would clearly take some organising being in mind the busy schedule that teams both North and South encountered. Over the years the competition usually started around February. This would mean, however, that one year’s competition might span two seasons for the Irish League teams.
The format of the competition varied from year to year. Initially it involved two groups of three each played the other home and away. The group winners met in the final. The first winners were Linfield who defeated Shelbourne 2 – 0 in the final at Tolka Park in Dublin. As the years progressed more teams were invited to take part and twelve teams took part some years. In later years the group format was done away and replaced with a two-legged knock-out system with some teams receiving byes to skip the initial round. The final competition was won by Sligo Rovers who beat Dundalk 1 – 0 at Tallaght Stadium.
In all 21 teams featured in the competition over its lifespan, nine from Northern Ireland and twelve from the Republic. Glentoran took part in all nine competitions although they never won it.
In the first season the competition was known as the Setanta Cup. In subsequent seasons it became the Setanta Sports Cup. By 2015, fixture congestion on both sides of the border meant that scheduling because too difficult and no decision for continuing the competition could be taken. Eventually Setanta Sports became Eir Sport after being acquired by Eir and the competition was ultimately scrapped.
Texaco (All-Ireland) Cup
In the 1973/1974 Texaco, an American petroleum company, introduced a new North-South competition. Three years earlier they had launched the Texaco Cup, a competition for teams from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Troubles caused the Irish clubs to have to pull out of this competition after two years. Two teams from both jurisdictions were invited to compete. The format was two-legged semi-finals and a final. Unfortunately the competition only ran for two seasons.
In the first season Coleraine and Portadown were joined by Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers. Portadown made it to the final and defeated Bohemians 5 – 3 on aggregate. In the second season Linfield and Crusaders were joined by Waterford and Cork Hibernians. Linfield made it to the final but were defeated 1 – 0 on aggregate by Waterford.
The Tyler Cup was yet another one of the North-South competitions played between teams from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It started at the end of the 1977/1978 season but then it skipped a year and recommenced as an initial competition for the 1979/1980 season. It ran again, for the last time, at the beginning of the 1980/1981 season. The competition was sponsored by a footwear company.
The format for the first competition involved four teams from each country taking part in a knock-out first round, then semi-finals and a final. All the matches were decided by a single tie. For the second and third seasons eight teams from each country took part. Again it was a knock-out with a first round, quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final. The final was over two legs but the preceding matches were all single ties.
Shamrock Rovers were the first winners beating Finn Harps 1 – 0 in the final at Milltown. Athlone Town defeated Drogheda United 3 – 2 on aggregate in the second final and Athlone were again defeated in the third final 3 – 2 on aggregate by Linfield.