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Full-time move would require big money: Stephen Baxter

By Graham Luney

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter has argued that significant funding will need to be injected into Irish League football if it is to go full-time in the future.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that he would like to see Irish League football adopt a more full-time, professional approach and switch the season to the summer months to improve performances in Europe.

Although Danske Bank Premiership clubs have recorded impressive European triumphs in recent seasons, more lucrative financial rewards are slipping by.

Dundalk clashed with Polish champions Legia Warsaw last night in the first of a two-legged play-off which could blast the League of Ireland club into the group stages of the Champions League and see them pocket at least £8million.

Stephen Kenny's men are guaranteed at least a place in the group stages of the Europa League, where O'Neill took Shamrock Rovers in 2011.

Since switching to summer football in 2003, League of Ireland clubs have doubled their number of wins on the continent, with the tally of victories rising from 21 to 42.

Baxter said: "The summer football and full-time debates are interesting ones but when you consider that some of our clubs only have five or six weeks off from the end of the season, football has become nearly an all year round event here. Restructuring the league would be a massive challenge and there would also need to be significant funding available if the league was to go full-time.

"We are a small country and do we have the numbers, the facilities or the money to go full-time? I think if enough money is provided then it can lead to success as we have witnessed in the Olympics with the National Lottery funding allowing young athletes to go full-time.

"If someone was to say, 'here's your 12-team league, here's the funding and everyone turn professional' I think most people would say let's try it but that would require a lot of groups sitting down and holding serious discussions. If we are going to focus on improving performances in Europe and even making changes to the scheduling of our season then an ambitious plan with the relevant funding would need to be agreed."

Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer admitted O'Neill is right to highlight the Irish League clubs' far from ideal preparations for European football.

"I do believe the preparation for European matches needs to be addressed as it is inadequate and not leaving our clubs in the best shape for the games," said Teer.

"The season finishes in early May and as the European games start as early as June, clubs are finding it very hard to find quality opposition to play against. It's very hard to find those competitive matches to bolster the players' fitness levels so they don't tire in the European games."

Belfast Telegraph


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