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Irish FA grant historic extension to local football season as opportunity provided to complete 19/20 campaign



The IFA Football Committee met last night to discuss a number of matters.

The IFA Football Committee met last night to discuss a number of matters.

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The IFA Football Committee met last night to discuss a number of matters.

Irish FA President David Martin has revealed that the governing body's Football Committee have taken the historic step to grant the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) an extension to the 2019/2020 season.

Martin also explained that the IFA Football Committee last night moved to provide clarity to clubs relating to player contracts and registrations and insisted that he would like to see the Irish Cup competition played to a finish on the pitch.

There has been much criticism in how the NIFL Board and a Steering Group, formed to "explore options for concluding the current season" have handled what happens next in the Premiership and Championship, with a perceived lack of action at the heart of the frustration amongst managers, players and supporters who have been waiting for progress since football here was halted by coronavirus on March 13.

It reached a peak when NIFL announced on Friday that they were delaying any decisions on if, when and how this season would finish until June 30, with Linfield boss David Healy labelling the situation "embarrassing".

What NIFL now have is the go-ahead from the IFA to extend the 2019/2020 campaign.

"The Football Committee had a meeting to consider issues including the season extension and the registration of players," explained IFA President Martin.

President Martin added: “We had applications in from the Northern Ireland Football League, the Ballymena Saturday Morning League and the County Antrim FA for extensions to the season. It is up to the Football Committee to grant them and we did that.

“In the past, we have had requests for extensions for a week or 10 days from junior leagues but, in 40 years in my time in football, I cannot recall this happening with the Irish League so it is an historic moment in what are unprecedented times.

“They can commence on June 1 if they wish and they have to indicate when they wish to end the season in order to begin the next season.

“We have provided the necessary opportunity for them to finish the season if they so desire. That will be a matter for each league and each league needs their own plan to do that.”

Martin pointed out that if NIFL opt to resume the Premiership campaign, which has seven games to go with Linfield leading Coleraine by four points in the title race, health and safety is the most important consideration.

He said: “Everyone will have to take note of government and medical requirements. Health and safety of the players, managers, staff, referees and all involved in our games is the most important factor.

“I cannot emphasise that enough. NIFL will have to factor that in to their plan. There are many other considerations such as Covid-19 testing, the cost of testing, is it available and also that it is unlikely teams will be playing in front of spectators for some time which means no revenue.

“All this has to be taken into account.”

On player contracts, Martin said: “The extension to the season goes hand in glove with player registrations and hopefully what was talked about at the Football Committee meeting will provide clarity for clubs.

“The opening of the registration period for professional contracts is delayed until the Association declare an end to the season 2019/2020.”

On the prospect of the Irish Cup being played to a finish with Cliftonville due to face Glentoran in one semi-final and Coleraine up against Ballymena United in the other, Martin hopes Northern Ireland's most prestigious Cup competition can go ahead.

He said: “I would like to see the Irish Cup played and the three games take place. If NIFL can play their league, we can play the Irish Cup though a lot will be down to what is practical as well.”

Asked about the criticism of the NIFL, Martin added: “It is not easy in the current state. I realise everyone wants a plan but I am not here to criticise.

“What we have done is give them an opportunity to extend the season if they so desire.”

Belfast Telegraph