Belfast Telegraph

Irish League must be willing to embrace change: Michael O'Neill

Opinion time: Michael O’Neill feels change is necessary
Opinion time: Michael O’Neill feels change is necessary

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill has said he would like to see more young talent progress in Irish League football while reiterating his argument for a season which incorporates the summer months.

From talks regarding an All-Island League to seasonal change which would see competitive football played in July and August, debate has raged over how the domestic game could be transformed but finding agreement has proved problematic.

Given the opposition to dramatic change, it's possible that there will be no significant developments but Northern Ireland boss O'Neill feels there is much room for improvement.

"I can't change things. I can only give an opinion on it," said the new Stoke City manager, who will see out the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with his country.

"If anything, what the clubs did in Europe this summer showed that if they played summer football, they would do even better. It doesn't show we are doing things right.

"At the end of the day the champions go into the Champions League game but we didn't get past the first hurdle, whilst the other clubs got through their first Europa League round.

"I definitely think if we were further prepared, they would have a better chance and it is the most lucrative income stream clubs have here.

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"Look at Linfield, they played at their best the further they went in the European qualifiers.

"I don't even call it summer football. If you look at it, there are probably eight or 10 weeks a year where clubs aren't playing.

"So you are only moving eight or 10 weeks of the season.

"So 75 per cent of the season will be the same, roughly.

"So it is about being strategic to give your clubs the best access to the most lucrative stream of income that they can get.

"I think the clubs are trying extremely hard but there are still not enough young players playing in the league. The data and the minutes prove that.

"We need the league to produce more like Gavin Whyte and Stuart Dallas, and hopefully the clubs can continue doing that."

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