|Number of teams||41|
|Current champions||Cliftonville (2012–13)|
|Most successful club(s)||Linfield (9 titles)|
|2012–13 Irish League Cup|
The Irish League Cup, or the IRN-BRU League Cup, is the third-highest rated competition in domestic Northern Irish football competition after the IFA Premiership and Irish Cup. It has been sponsored by Irn Bru since the 2011–12 season. From 2001–02 to 2010–11 it was sponsored by Co-operative Insurance (known as CIS until 2007–08). Previous sponsors have been Coca-Cola (1998–99 to 2000–01), Wilkinson Sword (1991–92 to 1997–98), and Roadferry Freight (1986–87 to 1990–91). It should not be confused with the Irish League Floodlit Cup which ran from 1987–88 to 1997–98 initially under the sponsorship of Budweiser and latterly Coca-Cola. The winners qualify for the next season's all-Ireland Setanta Sports Cup.
The competition is open to IFA Premiership and IFA Championship clubs, and uses a knock-out system. Eighteen Championship teams enter in the first round, with the remaining eleven given a bye to the second round, where they are joined by the twelve Premiership clubs and the nine winners from the first round. From there on, the competition has a third round, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final.
Each round consists of a single match. In the event that the scores are level, extra time is played, and if the teams are still level, there is a penalty shoot-out. The semi-finals are played at neutral venues. The final, generally, is played at Windsor Park.
The final has been broadcast live on television since the 2005–06 season initially on BBC One NI or BBC Two NI and in 2013 on Sky Sports.
The competition began as a straight knock-out competition in 1986–87, and also included teams from the Irish League B Division until 1997–98. From 1998–99 until 2007–08, only senior (Irish League and Irish Premier League) teams competed, but the competition was opened up to the 17 IFA Championship clubs in 2008–09, and again in 2010–11 to include clubs from Championship 2, after the Championship 2 League Cup was ended. From 2001–02 until 2007–08, a group stage followed by a knock-out system was used instead of the straight knock-out system, and for two seasons (2008–09 and 2009–10) two-legged home and away aggregate ties were used up until the quarter-finals, instead of single matches.
When it was first introduced, it was one of a number of senior cup competitions in Northern Ireland run by the Irish League, originally to compensate for the relatively few league fixtures (traditionally 22 or 26), but also as vehicles for sponsorship revenue. The League Cup would have been considered less prestigious than the long-standing Gold Cup and Ulster Cup. Over the past decade or so however, these other cup competitions have been phased out as the number of Irish League fixtures has increased and the public appetite for additional competitions has reduced, leaving the League Cup as the only surviving cup competition run by the Irish League and now established as the third most prestigious competition in Northern Ireland. The actual trophy presented to the winners is the old City Cup, which was another senior Irish League competition that ended in 1975.
The first competition began in March 1987, and featured 32 clubs. The first final took place on 9 May 1987 at the Oval, and was contested by Linfield and Crusaders. Linfield became the first ever winners of the cup, defeating Crusaders 2–1.
The 1988–89 final, played between Glentoran and Linfield at the Oval on 11 November 1988 was won courtesy of a goal by Glentoran Goalkeeper Alan Patterson, via a kick from his own penalty area. This was the first time that a Goalkeeper had ever scored in a British football final.
Linfield have won the cup nine times, more than any other club. Linfield and Glentoran share the record for most appearances in the final, with twelve appearances each. The most common final has been the Big Two Derby which has occurred seven times, with the last time being in 2005–06. Linfield have won on four occasions and Glentoran on three.
The highest score ever recorded in a final is 4–0, which has occurred twice: in 2000 when Linfield defeated Coleraine, and in 2013 when Cliftonville defeated Crusaders. Linfield also hold the record for the most consecutive wins (three): 1997–98, 1998–99 and 1999–2000.
Ten different clubs have won the cup, but only five clubs have done so more than once. Twelve different clubs have reached the final, with Larne and Newry City being the only two clubs that have reached the final but never won the competition, both having appeared in the final twice, losing on both occasions. In 2011, Lisburn Distillery became the tenth different club to win the cup, in what was their first ever appearance in the final.
In 2008–09, Portadown became the first intermediate team to reach the final, and subsequently became the first intermediate team to win the cup after defeating Newry City 1–0. That was also the first final to be played outside Belfast, with Mourneview Park, Lurgan hosting the match. It was attended by UEFA President Michel Platini and Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington who was in Northern Ireland for the FIFA meeting held in Newcastle, County Down.
|1986–87||Linfield (1)||2 – 1||Crusaders||The Oval, Belfast|
|1987–88||Coleraine (1)||1 – 0 (aet)||Portadown|
|1988–89||Glentoran (1)||2 – 1||Linfield||10,000|
|1989–90||Glenavon (1)||3 – 1||Newry Town||Windsor Park, Belfast||1,000|
|1990–91||Glentoran (2)||2 – 0||Ards||4,000|
|1991–92||Linfield (2)||3 – 0||Larne||The Oval, Belfast|
|1992–93||Bangor (1)||3 – 0||Coleraine||Windsor Park, Belfast||2,000|
|1993–94||Linfield (3)||2 – 0||Coleraine||The Oval, Belfast||4,500|
|1994–95||Ards (1)||0 – 0 (2–0 pens)||Cliftonville||Windsor Park, Belfast||3,500|
|1995–96||Portadown (1)||2 – 1||Crusaders||2,600|
|1996–97||Crusaders (1)||1 – 0||Glentoran||3,000|
|1997–98||Linfield (4)||1 – 0||Glentoran|
|1998–99||Linfield (5)||2 – 1||Glentoran||6,500|
|1999–00||Linfield (6)||4 – 0||Coleraine||2,963|
|2000–01||Glentoran (3)||1 – 0||Glenavon||2,515|
|2001–02||Linfield (7)||3 – 1||Glentoran||6,200|
|2002–03||Glentoran (4)||2 – 0||Linfield||5,700|
|2003–04||Cliftonville (1)||1 – 1 (5–4 pens)||Larne||3,000|
|2004–05||Glentoran (5)||2 – 1 (aet)||Linfield||6,000|
|2005–06||Linfield (8)||3 – 0||Glentoran||6,845|
|2006–07||Glentoran (6)||1 – 0||Cliftonville||6,910|
|2007–08||Linfield (9)||3 – 2||Crusaders||5,200|
|2008–09||Portadown (2)||1 – 0||Newry City||Mourneview Park, Lurgan||4,000|
|2009–10||Glentoran (7)||2 – 2 (4–1 pens)||Coleraine||Windsor Park, Belfast|
|2010–11||Lisburn Distillery (1)||2 – 1||Portadown||Mourneview Park, Lurgan|
|2011–12||Crusaders (2)||1 – 0||Coleraine||Ballymena Showgrounds, Ballymena|
|2012–13||Cliftonville (2)||4 – 0||Crusaders||Windsor Park, Belfast||4,948|
|Linfield||9||3||1986–87, 1991–92, 1993–94, 1997–98, 1998–99, 1999–00, 2001–02, 2005–06, 2007–08|
|Glentoran||7||5||1988–89, 1990–91, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2006–07, 2009–10|
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