Belfast Telegraph

Time to prepare for some Irish League new year fireworks

By Graham Luney

Happy New Year to all Irish League fans and we can be quietly confident there will be more madness in 2015.

2014 will be remembered fondly by many, particularly in north-Belfast and Lurgan where there was dancing in the streets.

Some dreams came true but you can always rely on a nightmare eligibility saga to bring us back down to earth with a bang.

As Glentoran continue to fight the Gary Hamilton ruling in January, it's time to look ahead to the next 12 months and think about what direction we want the local game to travel in. What we have is a fantastic product, probably more appealing than it has ever been, but complacency, poor administration (namely, application of the rules) and financial difficulties could still give us a few more hangovers more nasty than anything the New Year revellers will experience.

So here is my wishlist for 2015. As we all know, we cannot get everything we desire but I'm going to reach for the stars.

Firstly, I want Irish FA disciplinary chiefs to understand their own rules. Only then will we steer clear from another eligibility saga which has the potential to sour relations between clubs and the association.

Rules and any punishments for breaching them should be crystal clear. The Irish FA have made so many disciplinary blunders that supporters have little faith justice will be served when cases arise.

Our game deserves better and should not be dragged down by the incompetence of anyone in a position of responsibility.

Secondly, I want a thrilling end to the Danske Bank Premiership title race and all the indications are that this could well happen.

Blues fans won't be getting carried away. One Linfield supporter remarked after the Boxing Day victory over Glentoran, 'whoever finishes above Cliftonville will win the league' and he is right.

There isn't one team which is a cut above the rest in this league and that makes for a tense finale. The ins and outs in January could be decisive.

Thirdly, there are far too many top Irish League players who are sitting around doing very little. Another wish of mine is to see players like David Howland, Jim Ervin, Aaron Stewart, Kyle McVey, Anthony Elding, Chris Morrow, Paul Leeman, Stephen Garrett, Barry Johnston, Peter Thompson and Sean Ward back on the pitch and strutting their stuff. Happy and healthy New Year to all the players.

My fourth wish could perhaps be another long shot. I want to see the standard of refereeing improve.

The authorities must make sure there are enough referees coming off the production line to keep the system running effectively and perhaps it's not so wise to name and shame in the manner Mervyn Smyth was 'stood down' following his performance in the Glenavon-Linfield match.

Wish number five concerns an aspect of our game that should fill us all with pride. In recent weeks we have seen Irish League players complete charity work and visit schools and hospitals.

What this tells me is that the players care about their communities and it makes you proud to be part of the Irish League family when you see players and managers express support for those who need it the most.

So let's see this great work continue in 2015 and not just at Christmas.

My sixth wish is for clubs to get their hands on cash to enhance their facilities. Despite a chronic lack of investment in our game the clubs are still going strong and that's testament to the passion and forward thinking of loyal supporters.

Improve the facilities and even more fans will come to watch. Attendances are rising as word spreads that this is a community worth belonging to.

Here's to another 12 months of madness!

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