Irish League must introduce summer football now, says Oran Kearney
Progressive Coleraine boss Oran Kearney has pleaded with the Irish Football Association and the Northern Ireland Football League to introduce summer football in Northern Ireland.
The Irish FA's new five-year strategy, which was made public yesterday, proposes a "tweaking of the season" with clubs playing in May and June. Improved performances in Europe can secure massive cash windfalls and the association wants NIFL's co-efficient to rise from 47th to the top 40.
Many supporters will view this move as a step towards summer football and Kearney, whose side travel to Norway to face FK Haugesund in the Europa League on Thursday (6.00pm), has warmly welcomed the plans.
"We need to move to summer football," said the Bannsiders boss.
"We are part-time sides playing against full-time clubs who are fitter and stronger because they are in season and we are well behind other countries."
The Irish FA hope to assist clubs through coaching clinics led by international managers , lifestyle programmes will also be provided and the governing body will also create a Performance Academy for players aged 16 to 23 to enhance their fitness, strength and conditioning. Funding will also be released to help pay administration staff.
FULL SUMMARY OF IRISH FA'S FIVE-YEAR STRATEGY: Irish FA propose 'tweak' to Irish League season in new five year strategy
The new strategy document also states: "We will work with the Northern Ireland Football League to propose a tweaking of the season so that clubs are playing in May and June. This will mean that clubs that have qualified for Europe are in peak form and fitness ahead of their competitive matches."
Impressive European campaigns generate more funding from UEFA, as Dundalk discovered when they pocketed around £6.1million for reaching the Europa League group stages last year.
Kearney added: “I’ve held the view for years we need to move to summer football. They have made the switch down south and we have seen clubs like Derry City, Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk reap the benefits.
“At times we have produced a few miracles but the odds are stacked against us. People talk about the Boxing Day fixtures and losing those gate receipts, but what Coleraine would make from that game against Ballymena United is very little compared to a European run.
“Even when I was at Linfield and playing in Europe I felt we could have performed so much better had we been in season. We’ve got to make it easier for ourselves. I hope this is a first step towards summer football, better European performances and more money to improve our game.”
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson explained: “We have consulted quite widely, and NIFL will explore the details, but we have put it in our headline, ‘Break the Top 40’, and the reason we put it that way is that it is probably the biggest single thing we could do to help fund NIFL clubs.
“If we can get from 47th to about 40 it will make a huge difference to the amount of solidarity income that comes from Uefa and goes straight to the clubs.
“When we look at countries above us like the Republic of Ireland, who are 41, it should not be impossible for us to get a level of performance that their clubs have reached. We also want to work with Government to help clubs with professional administration.”
The IFA have also set their sights on a new National Training Centre and the redevelopment of stadia with the help of funding from the Department for Communities (£36m).