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No Longer a Gimmick

Irn Bru Cup

The New Saints and Connah's Quay Nomads embark on their Irn-Bru Cup adventures again this weekend, and it's fair to say there's a lot less scepticism ahead of this second season of the sponsored Scottish competition than there was a year ago.

The addition of Welsh Premier and Irish League sides was initially regarded as a bit of a gimmick, especially in Scotland, although the changes to the format never encountered the sort of hostility that English fans expressed towards their Checkatrade Trophy. Maybe the cross-border element took the sting out of Premiership academy sides competing, or maybe the latter idea just isn't as contentious north of the border.

It is likely that few people at the Scottish League or the sponsors expected one of the foreign sides to reach the semi-finals, so the fine run by TNS in 2016-17 must have enhanced the perception of Welsh domestic football in Scotland. More importantly, perhaps, it also didn't pass unnoticed at home in Wales, where dismissal of the Welsh Premier and its playing standards became rather harder after the Saints' successes against Scottish League clubs.

Will we see a repeat this year? That may be too much to ask of TNS, who are still in a transition following the departure of Craig Harrison. They beat Scottish Championship outfit Livingston away last year and now face them at Park Hall in a tie that is hard to call.

Connah's Quay Nomads will make their IrnBru Cup debut at Dumbarton on Saturday. Again, a draw against a Scottish Championship club is far from the easiest the Nomads could have wished for at this stage, but Andy Morrison's men have pulled off some impressive results in the Europa League these past two seasons and will travel north determined to make their mark in the competition.

Whatever happens in this year's opening cross-border games, the move to invite non-Scottish clubs is now regarded as inspired rather than gimmicky by everyone involved, and we can only hope that more WPL clubs get the chance of such adventures in the future.
Dave Collins

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