All Irish League clubs agreed to packed festive schedule, say under-fire NIFL
The Northern Ireland Football League have defended their festive fixture programme after coming under fire from clubs.
Teams will play four times in 10 days over the holiday period, and the heavy schedule has been criticised by players and managers, who said it was "madness" to expect part-time players to play so many matches.
However, a spokesman for NIFL said the season's schedule had been agreed as far back as May, with the campaign starting a week later than normal.
He said the Christmas period was always popular with fans.
"The Premiership Management Committee, at their meeting in May 2017, agreed that the league season should start on the weekend of Saturday, August 12, against the initial proposal of the first round of fixtures being played the weekend of Saturday, August 5," he added.
"This decision meant the reduction of the playing season by one calendar week. Consequently we had to allocate dates for two rounds of fixtures which were therefore fitted into the schedule.
"The clubs agreed to schedule a full round of fixtures for this weekend (Saturday, December 23) as a consequence of the aforementioned decision."
After tomorrow, clubs are back in action on Tuesday for the Boxing Day programme, with another round of games scheduled for December 30, and a fourth set for January 1 and 2.
Linfield manager David Healy and Dungannon boss Rodney McAree both voiced concerns.
But NIFL said: "We can empathise that it is a busy period for clubs and players.
"It is, however, important to note that the clubs themselves agreed the fixture schedule and have been aware of the schedule from May, even before fixtures were released.
"The festive calendar has always been busy, but we are confident clubs, supporters and players all eagerly look forward to all games which traditionally produce some of the biggest attendances of the season and will hopefully add to what has been a fantastic season to date in the Danske Bank Premiership."