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Colin McKendry: Irish League had to show leadership but testing can restore confidence to continue

Coleraine chief gutted about break but admits right call has been made

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Head boys: Cliftonville’s Aaron Donnelly takes on Crusaders’ Adam Lecky in the final match before the league was suspended

Head boys: Cliftonville’s Aaron Donnelly takes on Crusaders’ Adam Lecky in the final match before the league was suspended

©INPHO/Presseye/Stephen Hamilto

Head boys: Cliftonville’s Aaron Donnelly takes on Crusaders’ Adam Lecky in the final match before the league was suspended

"It's just football, it's not life and death - the Northern Ireland Football League had to act."

That's the view of Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry, who recognised the need for the Danske Bank Premiership to begin a two-week pause last Saturday.

While the Irish League's top tier is allowed to continue behind closed doors as it's classed as elite by the NI Executive, concerns at the deepening health crisis raised by players, officials and referees forced the football body to call a halt to proceedings.

There are mixed views within the game over whether the season should have been halted, but everyone accepts the pandemic poses a significant health risk to a game played largely by part-time players.

NIFL and the Irish FA are exploring Covid-19 testing options before training is scheduled to return on Monday but it will come at a significant cost.

NIFL board chairman Gerard Lawlor has estimated tests could cost around £75. For a squad of 30 personnel, the weekly figure could be as much as £2,250 per club or £27,000 for all 12 clubs per week.

For a six-week period, the cost could reach £162,000 - however, the Irish FA would endeavour to bring those costs down.

McKendry believes testing should give players greater confidence and he insists this short winter break was the right call.

"I'm disappointed, but sometimes your head has to rule your heart," said the Bannsiders chief who is on the NIFL board.

"We needed to be responsible and show leadership. Concerns had been raised by players, officials, backroom staff, and that was gaining momentum.

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Colin McKendry

Colin McKendry

�INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Colin McKendry

"I think we did need to do something and I feel the right decision was taken.

"It's sport and, while it is important for mental health, there are bigger issues out there.

"It's just football, it's not life and death - the Northern Ireland Football League had to act.

"We do get so passionate about it we can forget about reality and what is happening now requires us to make important decisions.

"Testing is key in all of this. With the testing, and hopefully the numbers will drop, we want to bring the league to some sort of a conclusion."

With the virus spreading more easily in the community, the Irish League was never going to escape it, but clubs have done everything within their power to minimise the risk and the need to adhere to protocols is now greater than ever.

"We had testing during the European games and it gives you some confidence," added McKendry.

"You need to deal with the virus if it's picked up. Many people don't realise they have it and before you know it teams have to self-isolate.

"But we aren't living in a bubble. We expect our players to be socially responsible and adhere to the protocols.

"Before the break we had no testing so there was no confidence we were going into matches without the virus.

"It's not the answer to everything but it's better than what we have at the moment."

While Linfield manager David Healy questioned whether or not a full 38-game season is possible in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, McKendry is refusing to let go of the clubs' No1 target just yet.

Carrick Rangers have played only nine matches, while Cliftonville are the only side to reach 13 fixtures so far ahead of the scheduled resumption on Saturday, January 23.

"I wouldn't want to finish it at 22 games," he said.

"I'd like to make it to 38 but it will be difficult as we run out of match days.

"I don't think we can give up on 38 until the dates run out. The dates are close to running out but we've got to play as long as we can.

"I would say never say never until 38 games becomes physically impossible to do."

  •  Linfield midfielder Bastien Hery is reportedly close to a deal with Bohemians, who have confirmed the signing of winger Stephen Mallon from Sheffield United. The Belfast man spent last season on loan at Derry City where he scored three times in 17 appearances in all competitions.

Belfast Telegraph


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