Belfast Telegraph

Irish FA should put money into Irish League clubs - not pressure for summer switch, says Linfield chairman

By Steven Beacom in the Sunday Life

Linfield chairman Roy McGivern has insisted that the Northern Ireland Football League and the clubs who compete in it should make the decision on the future of the football calendar here and not be pressurised by the Irish FA or international manager Michael O’Neill.

Northern Ireland boss O’Neill has made no secret of his desire for the Irish League to play during the summer like in the League of Ireland and he has been backed in that view by IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson.

There have been consultations between NIFL, the clubs and various stakeholders about the next move which is expected to happen shortly.

Speaking to Sunday Life Sport, McGivern has made it clear where the Blues stand on the issue.

“There have been comments made by Patrick Nelson and Michael O’Neill about the future of the Irish League and there has been a lot of talk about radical change being needed in the Irish League and that we need to improve,” says McGivern.

“It is a bit concerning from our club’s point of view that there is pressure being brought to bear when it really is a matter for the clubs and NIFL to decide how best to run our own league.

“You always want to hear what other stakeholders think and obviously the IFA are a big stakeholder. I just think they are trying to bring pressure to bear and we would have concerns about a number of things that have been floated and the move to summer football being one.

“NIFL have already had consultation on it and the vast majority of clubs, and I’ve spoken to most of the chairmen, are against it for a number of reasons.

“We are a part-time league and players and supporters take their holidays in summer months plus the big Christmas fixtures are in many ways the lifeblood of the game here for bringing in revenue especially for those clubs that don’t qualify for Europe. We just think moving to the same model as southern clubs is not workable here.”

The IFA would contend that they aren’t putting pressure on NIFL or the clubs and point out any tweak to the season would enhance the chances of Irish League clubs in Europe which is now worth so much money.

McGivern says: “The IFA talk a great deal about improving standards and improving performance in Europe but they don’t invest in it. They need to put in money and try and help clubs with summer training camps and better preparation for Europe.

“It is important how Irish League sides do in Europe and we at Linfield certainly want to do better in Europe but as a league we have a fantastic product.

“Standards are improving, there are more clubs challenging now and it is a product that doesn’t need a radical overhaul.

“Let the clubs get on with it. We all care deeply about and have an investment in the Irish League and if we think change is needed the clubs will bring that forward through NIFL.”

O’Neill would love to see more youngsters play in the Irish League which in turn may see them develop quicker and make cross-channel moves potentially leading to a larger choice for Northern Ireland managers.

McGivern said: “Michael is thinking about the international team and that’s fine because that’s his job but first and foremost my concern is Linfield and progressing our own club and improving our own league. We shouldn’t be pressured to do what is best for international football, we have to do what’s best for the Irish League.”

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