To quote Father Ted, here’s a really mad idea: a Celtic League for football.

Professional football in Scotland is in a parlous state. There’s only Celtic, and, frankly, they’d be lucky to last a season in the Premier League. Rangers is struggling to come back to where they used to be – i.e. on a par with Celtic – and after that there’s, er, nobody, nothing, zilch.

Ross County, Motherwell, Kilmarnock. These teams are only known outside their native heath because of the way they used to trip off the tongue after five o’clock on Grandstand. They’re like the Shipping forecast: North Utsire, South Utsire, Fitzroy, German Bight, Heart of Midlothian, St Johnstone. And don’t even get us started on the lower reaches: Inverness Caledonian Thistle,  Brechin City, Alloa Athletic.

Hamilton Academicals, currently lying eighth in the Scottish top flight (ha!) belong in the same blameless, but uninspired category of football as Accrington Stanley, at present in third place in England’s League Division Two following a 2-1 victory over Chesterfield.

And if it’s bad in Scotland, it’s worse in Ireland, where the Irish League (i.e Northern Ireland) co-exists with the League of Ireland (the Republic) at a level somewhere between the Scottish Championship (yes, there is one) and the English League Division One. You’ve probably heard of a few of them: Linfield, Glentoran, Shelbourne (currently marooned in the First Division), Bohemians, St Patrick’s Athletic. These are some of Ireland’s best, and they could be beaten hollow on a bad day by Celtic – a club that routinely wins the Scottish Premier Division before getting hoofed out of the Champions League at the earliest opportunity.

Drill further down in Ireland and you come up with Finn Harps, Ballinamallard, Cobh Ramblers, Cabinteely, Institute FC (from Drumahoe) and, I kid you not, Bray Unknowns. Can you imagine how soon, if you were a talented 19-year-old footballer anywhere in Ireland, you would want to get the hell out to England?

And then take Wales … please. Wales is in one sense an aberration from the Celtic norm. Its top teams, Swansea and Cardiff, plus Newport County and Wrexham, play in the English leagues. Swansea is even a half-decent member of the Premier League, while Cardiff City, presently lying third in the Championship, is once more knocking at the door. As for the rest of football in Wales, who knows? They might as well be playing in Ruritania for all the impact they make.

It is at this point that I have to make an admission. If this is the way the Scots, Irish and Welsh wish to play their football, fine. Fantastic. It is, after all – or used to be – a sport rooted in community, and if the fans throughout the Celtic fringe enjoy their local rivalries and the sense of connection they have with managers and players, that’s great. I mean it. Great. Fair play to them.

But if they would like to have an upper tier of teams that play football at the highest level, so that a Scottish, Irish or Welsh side is at least in with a shout most years in the Champions League or Europa League, then they need to get their act together – literally.

Consider the big cities of the three countries: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Cardiff and Swansea. Each of these could support one, in some cases two, seriously good professional clubs. Then add the best of the rest, maybe three from Scotland, three from Ireland and two from Wales, and what have you got? A league as good as Portugal’s, or Belgium’s, or Sweden’s.

It would take money. The Irish and devolved governments would have to show interest. Big corporations would have to dip into their promotions budgets. Arses would have to be kicked. And UEFA would have to approve. But over time, with the right sponsorship and organisation, truly top teams would emerge, probably four or five in number, that on their day could take on the very best in Europe. Imagine the support when Dublin City mixed it with Celtic twice a year, or Belfast United hosted Rangers? At the European level, Celtic sides may not crowd out the Spanish, or the Germans, or the Italians (never mind the English), but they’d give them a run for their money, and on the occasions when they did win big, we could all take pride in their achievement.

The national sides would benefit from the increased opportunities provided, and fans starved of brilliance would get the chance to watch some of the world’s best performing in rebuilt stadiums.

It’s been done already with rugby, a minority sport but one in which clubs from the three Celtic nations are as good as anybody. Now let’s try it with football. We have the talent. We just need the ambition. Or are we happy just to stay as we are, with Forfar five, Fife four?

Well, I did say it was a mad idea.