Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Biting Back: Plastic pitches

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

Another icy blast... another raft of Irish League football fixtures in cold storage. Of four Premier games scheduled last night, only one went ahead

Predictably, Cliftonville forged ahead, on and off the pitch, defeating Coleraine 5-0 to go 12 points clear at the top, thanks to their weather-beating artificial surface.

It can be no coincidence, either, that the top two teams in the league, Cliftonville and Crusaders, are the ones playing on these types of pitch.

Or that they contested the last major final, the Reds triumphing over their north Belfast rivals in the League Cup. The way Cliftonville are playing, they could probably win the title on tarmac. But that is not the point.

The traditionalist in me would love to see all games played on grass. The realist tells me our climate, both temperate and financial, makes it imperative Irish League clubs maximise every opportunity to survive and prosper.

Those plastic pitches aren't just paying off on the football front. They are making money 24-7 for the two clubs in hire income and reduced training facility costs.

They aren't going to go away and, if anything, are likely to proliferate as envious rivals look to replicate the Reds and Crues model. That is why I cannot fathom the mindset of others, like some at my own club Glenavon, who run up a white flag at the first sight of green plastic.

The old Irish League as we knew it is a heartbeat from the last rites. But where there is life, there is hope.

The patient is now in intensive care, undergoing plastic surgery, and the early prognosis is good. Cliftonville and Crusaders are showing vital signs and the remedy for recovery is simple – if you can't beat them, join them.

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