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Irish FA call for unity in football family as bodies seek way to finish domestic season



Patrick Nelson

Patrick Nelson

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Patrick Nelson

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson has called on the football family in Northern Ireland to pull together in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nelson was speaking after being part of an emergency Uefa video conference which decided that the European Championship 2020 finals would be postponed by one year until 2021 due to the spread of Covid-19 around the continent and beyond.

Uefa also declared that all the Euro 2020 play-off games scheduled for later this month, including Northern Ireland’s trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina, were postponed with the hope they would take place in the June international window.

In relation to the future of Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, the Belfast Telegraph understands there will be ongoing dialogue between him, the IFA and his club Stoke City.

After being appointed Stoke City boss in November, O’Neill agreed to take charge of Northern Ireland in the March play-offs with senior players openly declaring they wanted him to manage the side in the summer finals if qualification was secured.

O’Neill is keeping a close eye on developments surrounding the Euros and will know there is no guarantee that the play-off in Bosnia will be played in June given the ever changing situation with Covid-19.

There is also no clarity on when Stoke will be back playing in the Championship leading to uncertainty about his dual role.

It is possible that O’Neill, who was determined to guide Northern Ireland to successive European Championships having inspired the team to the 2016 tournament, may not manage his country again.

It could all come down to a matter of if dates suit the three parties — O’Neill, Stoke and the IFA.

The decision to postpone Euro 2020 for a year was welcomed across the footballing world.

European football’s governing body came up with the decision at an emergency video conference involving Uefa’s 55 member associations, the board of the European Club Association and the European Leagues board with chief executive Nelson and president David Martin representing the IFA.

The Euro 2020 finals tournament, which had been down to take place between June 12 and July 12 this summer, will now be played in 2021 from June 11 to July 11.

The decision by Uefa provides space for national leagues to finish their competitions this season.

Nelson stated that Uefa had done “the right thing” in rescheduling the tournament.

On Northern Ireland’s new proposed June date for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final, he added: “We can’t be sure we will back playing football by then but that is the initial plan Uefa have laid out.”

The IFA chief executive also revealed talks are ongoing with the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) about how the Irish Premiership and the second and third tier leagues can be completed this season.

In a clear message to all those involved in the game here Nelson said: “This is a difficult time for all of us and we have to follow the public health guidance.

“What I am asking for now is for football to co-operate. We are a great big family in Northern Ireland from a football perspective and the more together we can be over the next few weeks and months, hopefully the better for all of us.”

While the next international dates have been pencilled in, NIFL officials will tonight meet with Irish Premiership clubs to speak about plans moving forward.

It is believed NIFL, in conjunction with the IFA, are putting together a number of proposals which will be discussed.

Last week the IFA announced that football across all levels in Northern Ireland would be suspended until April 4.

Given how events are unfolding with Covid-19 the authorities are aware that they will have to extend that date though there is a desire from all to put together the best possible scenarios whereby the season, in various leagues, could be finished.

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