Reserve teams set to compete in league structure if Championship revamp gets the go-ahead
The Belfast Telegraph Championship could be in for a radical overhaul, after the Northern Ireland Football League's structural review recommended a total revamp for the 2015/16 season.
A NIFL presentation on Monday night revealed the revamp could include turning Championship One into a senior division, and moving Premiership reserve teams into Championship Two.
As things stand both Championship One and Championship Two are intermediate divisions, with 14 teams in the second tier and 16 teams in the third tier. The 12 Danske Bank Premiership clubs all enter second teams in the NIFL Reserve League.
If the radical plan goes ahead, Championship One will be reduced to 10 clubs. The division may be changed into a senior league, or the clubs could be asked to obtain a Championship Licence. Either way, they are unlikely to be entered into any of the intermediate cup competitions.
It has been recommended by UEFA's Tom Gorissen follow a lengthy review process that involved all of domestic football's key stakeholders, that reserve clubs enter NIFL's third tier.
The suggestion is that the 20 remaining Championship clubs are joined by the 12 Reserve League sides in Championship Two. Those 32 clubs will be split into two regional divisions of 16. These clubs are likely to still play in all the intermediate cup competitions.
There will still be promotion between Championship One and Two, but Reserve teams will be blocked from moving into the second tier.
The main reason for this move is because the senior clubs feel the current Reserve League is stifling player development. The Premiership sides believe their young players would learn more by playing against adult teams. At the moment, the Reserve League largely consists of players under the age of 20.
If NIFL adopts this strategy they will be following the lead of the League of Ireland, who recently allowed Shamrock Rovers B to play in the First Division. In countries like Spain and Portugal, it is common place for reserves to play within the league structure. Real Madrid Castilla (B team) reached the Spanish Cup final in 1980 and went on to play in the Cup Winners' Cup.
Some intermediate clubs made the point that they had worked hard to get their facilities up to Championship standard, only for NIFL to move the goal posts a few years later. Other clubs suggested that more money should be available to help Championship clubs improve their facilities and structures.
Unfortunately, many Championship clubs did themselves no favours by not attending the focus groups that helped form these recommendations.
This proposal - along with other suggestions such as summer football – will now be considered by the NIFL board.
The introduction of summer football would be a controversial move for NIFL, but with most clubs against the proposal it seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
Although the majority of 1,500 fans whose survey results were analysed were in favour of summer football, this group includes football supporters who don't regularly attend Irish League games.
At the very least, Tom Gorissen and the NIFL review have given the clubs something to think about.
How the new NILF structure COULD shape up in 2015 if the radical plan is implemented.
Premiership (First Tier)
Championship One (Second Tier)
Harland & Wolff Welders
Championship Two North (Third Tier)
Ballymena United Reserves
Championship Two South (Third Tier)
Ballinamallard United Reserves
Dungannon Swifts Reserves
Warrenpoint Town Reserves