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Institute boss Sean Connor calling for a 14-team Premiership


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Institute manager Sean Connor

Institute manager Sean Connor

©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Institute manager Sean Connor

Institute manager Sean Connor has called on NIFL to consider introducing a 14-team Premiership next season by promoting two sides from the Championship.

The former Bohemians, Sligo Rovers, Dundalk and Galway United boss also has concerns regarding the long-term financial future of his club should the coronavirus crisis continue and he wants more clarity from the Northern Ireland Football League regarding how the league season will be finished.

Connor revealed that 60% of the club's playing and coaching staff are on the government's job retention scheme which covers 80% of an employee's wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. On the pitch, the club's future hangs in the balance as they sit bottom of the Danske Bank Premiership, three points adrift of Warrenpoint Town. But with seven matches still to be played they have a fighting chance of securing their top-flight future.

With no indication of when football will return, questions will continue to be asked over how the league season can be concluded and Connor says an expanded Premiership is worth considering.

"There's a few things going round in my mind and there are implications if they cannot finish the season," said Connor, who succeeded John Quigg in September.

"One option, and I recognise it would suit us, is no-one is relegated and two teams are promoted from the Championship to create an extended 14-team Premiership and then move it back to 12 with two sides relegated the following season.

"Ourselves and Warrenpoint would be happy with that but realistically when are we going to be playing? This is a unique situation and I think common sense should prevail and a 14-team Premiership is a sensible approach."

The Killybegs man admits it’s a financially challenging time for all clubs and he fears a battle to survive if the virus isn’t tackled swiftly.

“Our club have no debt which is important, we have a small and manageable budget but it is worrying because we don’t know when we will be back,” added Connor. “Clubs like ourselves are dependent on our gate receipts and match day activities to support our budget.

“Our club have taken advantage of a furlough scheme, though we do have some amateur players. About 60% of our playing and coaching staff are signed up for the scheme but we have a young squad and both the Irish FA and NIFL are being supportive.

“It is worrying and we know where we stand. The longer this goes on there will be bigger implications for all clubs.

“The authorities will need to make a decision whether to abandon or extend the season. You can play games behind closed doors but that doesn’t help clubs financially.

“That makes a mockery of the game which should be all about fans and having an atmosphere.”

It’s a waiting game for clubs and it’s hard for football chiefs to make plans when no one knows how this crisis will develop.

“I’ve no idea what they are going to do,” added the Stute chief.

“Things are outside your control and I learned a long time ago that this job is difficult enough and you can’t worry about the things you can’t control.

“We are keeping the boys positive and working hard.

“There are seven games remaining and potentially nine with a play-off and that’s what we are focused on.

“I’ve actually put my pre-season together for the next campaign and it’s just a case of doing what I can.

“But there is a lack of information and we will need clarity. I understand it’s a difficult situation but it would be nice to know our options. Ourselves and Warrenpoint could be relegated and it’s a concern. The season is over if you’re a mid-table team.

“Things are in limbo but I can’t fixate on it. We just have to be prepared to resume mentally and physically. I’m just trying to stay positive.”

Belfast Telegraph