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Explainer: What happens if the Irish League season isn't played to a 38-game finish due to the coronavirus pandemic?

 

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The Danske Bank Premiership Management Committee Chairman Jack Grundie (centre) oversaw the socially-distant presentation of the Gibson Cup to Linfield Chairman Roy McGivern and captain Jamie Mulgrew at Windsor Park in October after the 19/20 season was brought to a premature halt.

The Danske Bank Premiership Management Committee Chairman Jack Grundie (centre) oversaw the socially-distant presentation of the Gibson Cup to Linfield Chairman Roy McGivern and captain Jamie Mulgrew at Windsor Park in October after the 19/20 season was brought to a premature halt.

The Danske Bank Premiership Management Committee Chairman Jack Grundie (centre) oversaw the socially-distant presentation of the Gibson Cup to Linfield Chairman Roy McGivern and captain Jamie Mulgrew at Windsor Park in October after the 19/20 season was brought to a premature halt.

The Danske Bank Premiership season was paused at 6pm on Saturday with a self-imposed two-week break from action amid the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Numbers of cases have spiralled with as many as 9,591 people testing positive across Northern Ireland in just the last seven days.

There have been complications within the Irish League too, with four of the scheduled derby matches from last Saturday called off in line with NIFL's Covid Case Policy.

With time ticking on and no absolute guarantees that the break won't be longer than first envisaged, it's worth exploring what will happen if the Premiership cannot reach the full 38-game season.

Here's a quick guide:

Will it be pandemonium like last season?

In short, no. Who can forget the way the 19/20 campaign came to a climax, with weeks of arguments before it was decided that the final placings would be decided using a 'mathematical formula' which, at the end of the day, boiled down to a points-per-game basis.

This term, the NI Football League has put together a Policy for Curtailment of Leagues in Exceptional Circumstances document, which means there will be no such hoo-ha should what currently seems an ambitious 38-game target not be met.

What does the Policy for Curtailment say?

The document outlines just what should happen in the case of an early end to the campaign due to the pandemic (or other exceptional circumstances). In it, the policy is split into four distinct sections: if fewer than 38 games are played, fewer than 33 games are played, fewer than 28 games are played and fewer than 22 games are played.

It's worth noting that those are full match-days. So if 10 Premiership teams had played 22 matches but two had only played 21, then only 21 matches would be considered to have been played.

But, on that note, if there is only a small number of games required to reach a milestone, just one match in this hypothetical instance, it would be hoped that the circumstances could be found to get that game played.

So let's deal with the four sections...

What happens if fewer than 22 games are played?

Those are the three words that were on the lips of every non-Liverpool fan around April time: 'null-and-void'. If the league doesn't reach a stage where 22 game-days have been played, involving all teams playing each other twice, then the season will be left unfinished. No champions would be declared, there would be no promotion or relegation and the NIFL Board would determine the clubs put forward for European competition. Maybe that scenario would, actually, result in a rather argumentative end to the campaign...

What happens if between 22 and 27 games are played?

In this scenario, the standings would revert to the situation after 22 game-days, when all teams had played each other twice. It would be from that table that champions, European qualifiers, and relegated teams would be nominated. The top three ranked clubs and the Irish Cup winner would be nominated to participate in the UEFA Club Competitions although the Europa League play-offs would not take place. If the Irish Cup is not played, the fourth European place would be decided on league placing.

What happens if between 28 and 32 games are played?

The final placings, including for purposes of naming champions, European qualifiers and relegated teams would, as proved the case last season, be decided on points-per-game basis. The top three ranked clubs and the Irish Cup winner would be nominated to participate in the UEFA Club Competitions although the Europa League play-offs would not take place. If the Irish Cup is not played, the fourth European place would be decided on league placing.

What happens if between 33 and 37 games are played?

In this case, the table would revert to its position after 33 game-days, when all teams had played each other three times. It is from that table that champions, European qualifiers, and relegated teams would be nominated. The top three ranked clubs and the Irish Cup winner would be nominated to participate in the UEFA Club Competitions although the Europa League play-offs would not take place. If the Irish Cup is not played, the fourth European place would be decided on league placing.

What happens if 38 games are played?

A huge well done all round!

What happens to promotion and relegation if the Championship season is not played to a satisfactory conclusion?

The Championship and Premier Intermediate League seasons, of course, have yet to even begin. It was originally thought that the same rules as above would apply to both the second and third tiers of the NI Football League but, with the clock very much against them now, it is understood alternative arrangements are being looked at. If the Championship season is not played to any sort of a satisfactory conclusion, there would be no promotion or relegation and the Premiership's bottom team would get a relieving reprieve.

Belfast Telegraph


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