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Irish League season might never be finished, warns Ballymena United chief



Ballymena United chairman John Taggart

Ballymena United chairman John Taggart

Ballymena United chairman John Taggart

Ballymena United chairman John Taggart says he's starting to question whether the domestic football season will ever be finished and he fears clubs are in this fight for the long haul.

The Irish Football Association has extended the suspension of the domestic and grassroots football campaign until April 30 at the earliest following the coronavirus outbreak and the Sky Blues chief feels it could be several months before the game is played again. His concerns are clearly shared by Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, who has stated the current football season could be lost if it cannot be restarted by the end of June.

"If we don't succeed in restarting, the season will probably be lost," the Slovenian said.

The Irish FA indicated that the suspension would continue to be subject to "an ongoing review of the evolving situation around coronavirus" However Taggart, while acknowledging that sport is irrelevant in these horrific circumstances, fears it will be a very long time before football is back.

"We will see where this virus takes us but I'm not sure we are going to get this season finished. If that's the way it has to be then so be it," said Taggart, whose side had progressed to an Irish Cup semi-final against Coleraine. "I don't see there being football played in the next few months at least.

"Even the Irish FA are giving that impression by moving the suspension date for the season back to April 30. That's just over four weeks away and we all just have to do what we're told and obey the health guidelines.

"We might want to play football but if it's not safe you don't do it, it's as simple as that.

"I know we were in the Irish Cup semi-finals but you might not see that competition again until November or December, no-one knows."

Uefa are still hoping to have all domestic and European club competitions completed by the end of June.

Taggart understands the importance of the outstanding domestic matters being resolved but he feels the NI Football League steering group, established to navigate a possible way through the crisis, have a virtually impossible job.

"I wouldn't say call off the season now," he added. "It's important matters are settled on the pitch but I'm just not sure how we get to there."

Taggart added: “I can’t see us playing in June or July. You are looking at a lot of matches packed into a few weeks and it’s very hard.

“You could run next season as the climax of this season. It’s not ideal but it’s a way of playing the games.

“The NIFL steering group are trying to make the best out of a horrible situation.

“It’s difficult to make plans because they may fall by the wayside depending on how the virus is spreading.”

One unfortunate side effect for all football clubs is they will suffer a financial blow. For how long will they keep playing players’ wages and can contracts be extended into the summer or beyond?

“Every club will take a financial hit,” added Taggart. “For each club it will be different. David (Jeffrey) took us into Europe last year and into a second round which was an historic achievement. That gave us more finances to help us on our journey, while other clubs have received investment such as Larne and Glentoran.

“Some have gone full-time with their European ambitions but I’ll make a reasonable assumption they are paying players 12 months of the year and may have inflated wage bills. It will be a hard hit for them.

“I want to see all the clubs come through this and we can get back to what is a tremendous product. We have two months left of the season to honour contracts and the club will do that. I suspect that if the season is pushed back, the issue of players’ contracts will need to be resolved and the players will remain with their existing clubs.

“There’s chat of financial support from NIFL and certainly, with no incomings, clubs can’t last forever.”

Belfast Telegraph