Glentoran manager Mick McDermott has urged all Irish League clubs to stick together to ensure none of them go out of business in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
cDermott says that his main priorities as Oval boss are the health and wellbeing of his players, physically and mentally, but admits that the financial aspects surrounding football at this difficult time cannot be ignored.
With no matches in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future and no money coming in through gate receipts, there are serious concerns and fears that some Irish League clubs will struggle to make ends meet and could even go under.
Last year, Glentoran benefited from a huge investment from businessman Ali Pour but McDermott says the Oval club cannot take anything for granted given the uncertainties relating to Covid-19.
"This is a time for all Irish League clubs to stick together. We must do all we can as a group to ensure that no clubs go under," stated McDermott.
"We cannot allow something like that to happen. We cannot let clubs fold because it would be terrible for our league.
"People might think that we have no problems with the injection of cash that has come into our club but we are worried as well because we don't want to burn through money intended to invest in the playing squad on operational costs due to the coronavirus. It is not a case of us just getting more money down the road.
"There will be no team immune to financial challenges that are ahead. That's why all clubs have to bond together."
After the Irish FA announced earlier this month they were cancelling fixtures until April at the earliest, Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey called on the governing body and the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) to be pro-active in helping clubs here overcome financial burdens during the crisis situation.
McDermott said: “I think they are going to be pro-active because everybody’s future is at stake here and that includes them (IFA and NIFL). David (Jeffrey) said that early in the process and I agreed with him.”
Asked what can be done, McDermott said: “I think the government would be the first port of call for football authorities.
“On a weekend you could have anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 people watching Irish League football so that is around £100,000 to £150,000 coming into the top division here every week. How do you replace that?
“I appreciate nothing has ever happened like this before but hopefully government will see that sport is a massive and valuable part of the society and it generates money for the economy.
“I don’t want to use the phrase rescue package. I see it more as giving assistance. Every company is going to be looking for that.”
In the League of Ireland, Sligo have laid off their staff and players while Drogheda have suspended payment to players and staff. McDermott says such scenarios wouldn’t surprise him in the Irish League.
He added: “My main priority is that our players are fit, healthy and well, both physically and mentally. Mental health is a massive thing during this situation.”
Meanwhile, McDermott and Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin and the rest of the IFA party will not be going to Switzerland next month to take part in a course relating to their Pro Licence coaching badges.
Before Covid-19 took hold in the UK, there was controversy when it was revealed that McDermott and McLaughlin would be in Switzerland when their teams were involved in an April 7 Irish Cup semi-final. The trip has been called off, and the semi-final will be postponed soon too.
With all that is going on in the world, it does not seem a big deal now. McDermott worked in Iran for several years — a country that has suffered over 1,000 deaths so far due to the coronavirus.
The Glens boss said: “I feel so sorry for the people of Iran and of course people affected in Northern Ireland and beyond. We have to stick together now.”
• The Irish FA’s Disciplinary Committee has imposed bans on Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey and his assistant Bryan McLaughlin for their actions after the Ballymena United v Coleraine Danske Bank Premiership match at The Ballymena Showgrounds earlier this month.
Jeffrey and McLaughlin will serve four-match and three-match bans respectively for breaching Article 18.7 of the Irish FA’s Disciplinary Code.
Jeffrey was also dismissed during the match after receiving two cautions and he will serve a further one-match suspension.