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Championship granted elite status as Dundela boss Colin Nixon urges clubs to ‘move on’ beyond past anger


Dundela boss Colin Nixon has been in the job for over a year and has yet to take charge of a league game. Pic: INPHO/Declan Roughan

Dundela boss Colin Nixon has been in the job for over a year and has yet to take charge of a league game. Pic: INPHO/Declan Roughan

©INPHO/Declan Roghan

Dundela boss Colin Nixon has been in the job for over a year and has yet to take charge of a league game. Pic: INPHO/Declan Roughan

Over a year on from being appointed as Dundela manager, Colin Nixon is finally looking forward to his first league game in charge.

The Glentoran legend has welcomed news that the Championship will be granted elite status for the coming season, adding an extra layer of protection against games being called off due to coronavirus restrictions.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that the elite status will kick in only if and when the Championship season begins, the big kick-off currently scheduled for Saturday, August 7.

It is also understood that players and staff are not set to undergo routine testing when the campaign begins.

Nixon was very outspoken when Northern Ireland’s second tier failed to get up and running at all last season and his Dundela side even rejected the chance to play in the Irish Cup, with the boss saying that accepting a brief stint as an elite club to conclude the season would be a ‘kick in the teeth’.

It came at the end of a long campaign in which the Premiership was played to its full 38-game conclusion while Nixon and the rest of the Championship watched on with envy, his side playing only two County Antrim Shield fixtures across the entire season.

Under coronavirus restrictions, only elite sports were permitted to take place for much of the season, the men’s and women’s Premiership classed in that bracket along with the likes of Ulster Rugby. While non-elite sports can currently be played as the Stormont restrictions have been loosened, the granting of elite status will ease the minds of players and staff that the 21/22 Championship campaign will not be as susceptible to a shut-down should those restrictions tighten again during the course of the season.

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“We’re obviously all delighted,” said Nixon. “It would be remiss of me not to say I thought we should have had it last season but we didn’t and that’s water under the bridge now. The past is the past and we have to look forward.

“Thank goodness the elite status will give us the safe benefit of knowing we can’t be stopped unless the Covid restrictions calls a halt to elite sports, which hopefully they won’t.

“It means we can prepare for a normal season. Last year, we didn’t know from one day to the next what was happening but at least now we know we’re secure, we can get going and hopefully we won’t be stopped.

“I think it was hard for the lads to watch the Premiership guys playing. I think they felt a wee bit undervalued but it is what it is and you have to move on with it. We’re delighted that elite status has been granted and we’re very excited to get going.”

It still won’t be quite a normal season for clubs, who will have to comply with a list of protocols. For example, each ground must currently be risk-assessed to ascertain the number of spectators permitted to attend grounds. That is based on two-metre social distancing, although that mark is up for review within the Northern Ireland Executive and may be changed before the campaign kicks off.

“Our secretary has been going through all the protocols and it’s not plain sailing by any means,” Nixon continued. “It’s not something we take lightly with the infection rates at the minute. There are plenty of protocols that we intend to follow stringently because we want to get the season up and running and keep it running.”

And that means Nixon is now only 11 days away from his first league game in charge, over 12 months on from his appointment, having overseen just those two County Antrim Shield fixtures last term; a 3-0 home win over Queen’s and a 7-2 defeat at Cliftonville. So this season’s opener will be a trip to Loughgall that has been a long time in the making.

“A year on and only two official games in charge, it must be some sort of record,” he laughed.

“Everybody missed it last year so I’m very much looking forward to getting back out there. It’s been weird to say the least. You sort of feel like you’re managing nothing really but we’re good to go now and I’m really pleased with the players I’ve got. Hopefully we can move forward together and have a good season.”

Those signings include the likes of established Premiership trio Kyle Owens, Tony Kane and Michael Smith as well as 19-year-old Glenavon goalkeeper Marc Matthews, who has arrived on loan.

But with the bizarre build-up to the campaign, Nixon is not ready to announce any grand ambitions that may be secretly held at Wilgar Park.

“It’s been tough,” he mused. “We’ve been out a year and you really don’t see the effects of that until you start matches. It’s ok in training but the boys are a bit rusty. We’ve a couple of games left to hone things in and then we’ll get going. It’s been very tough for the lads, missing a full season. It’s a lot to miss in their development but hopefully we can forego that and get going.

“We’ve got a squad together that have knitted well and we’ll see where we go.

“We added experience to the back line, which has been great but it’s a new squad but we’ll just see what we can achieve.”

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