Reaching the semi-finals of the EA Sports Cup wasn’t the only thing Bohemians and Waterford FC had in common last week; both received the news that they are to be invited to participate in the 2019-20 Irn-Bru Scottish Challenge Cup.
I’m not sure whether the invitation came as a surprise or not to Bohemians. As one of the 2 highest-placed finishers in the 2018 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division not to be qualified for Europe for 2019-20, the invitation would have been expected by right; when you consider the circumstances under which they exited the 2018-19 version of the competition though, back in February, perhaps they were half expecting not to get the call.
Having battled through to the quarter-finals with victories over Peterhead [of the SPFL] and Sutton United [of the National League in England], Bohsfound themselves drawn against East Fife. It was out of season for Bohemians by then though, and the game was postponed from before Christmas to February, only to be called off due to a frozen pitch shortly before kick-off, with East Fife already having travelled to Dalymount. Bohs elected not to reschedule and pulled out, handing East Fife a walk-over.
Will they accept the invitation this time? Will Waterford? Waterford were expecting to be in the Europa League, only to lose their place to St Patrick’s Athletic [who finished below them in the League] by virtue of not having been in existence in their current guise for the requisite amount of time. Don’t mention the war.
When Bray were invited into the 2017-18 Irn-Bru we pulled Elgin City away. It was a nice trip for those that went over, but the game wasn’t up to much and Wanderers lost. We got the invitation again for 2018-19 but had it taken off us [quite rightly] due to the off-field issues we were having under the then-ownership.
I’d have to admit to being a big fan of the Irn-Bru, and I’d be delighted if a League of Ireland club won it. For those who aren’t familiar with the format, it’s an innovative competition in that it involves the 30 clubs in the SPFL’s three lowest divisions, together with the U21 Academy sides of the 12 SPL teams. Added to that you have 4 sides each from the Highland and Lowland Leagues [the parallel leagues that are the highest non-league levels in Scotland] and 2 sides each from the Welsh Premier League, Northern Ireland Football League Premier Division, National League in England and our own Premier Division.
So far nobody from outside Scotland has won the Cup [the invitations to other Leagues is a new phenomenon although the competition has been running since 1990 under the sponsorship of B&Q, Petrofac, Ramsdens, Bells Whisky and now Irn-Bru]. Connah’s Quay Nomads from Wales reached the final this spring, but lost out to Ross County.
I suppose Bohemians and Waterford need to consider all the angles here. If they go far in the competition, then they will need to keep their 2019 squad together longer. Even to compete in the third round – the round at which the guests enter – you need to realise that it is around the time of the FAI Cup quarters [1stweekend in September], which can lead to fixture congestion. The semi-finals of the EA Sports Cup will have taken place by then too [Waterford face Derry City and Bohemians take on Dundalk] so winning through to that decider will be another game to be considered.
I hope the sides accept the invitations and go all-out to win this competition. It may not be Europe but it is an international competition, and unlike the Champions and Europa Leagues it is one that a club from our League has a realistic chance of winning.