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Irish League set to increase substitution limit and permit concussion switch


The Irish League is set to change its substitution rules. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little

The Irish League is set to change its substitution rules. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little

©INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little

Ronnie Millar

Ronnie Millar

Colin McKendry. Credit: Stephen Hamilton

Colin McKendry. Credit: Stephen Hamilton

Stephen Hamilton


The Irish League is set to change its substitution rules. Pic: INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little

The Northern Ireland Football League is expected to allow clubs to make up to five substitutes during a game when the new Premiership season gets under way at the end of next month.

It’s also understood teams will be permitted to make a concussion substitute, allowing an injured player to be permanently removed from a match.

The five subs rule was first introduced in May 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic so that teams could use five substitutes — instead of the standard three — to support player welfare amid a congested fixture schedule.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) said the temporary amendment will remain in place until December 31, 2022, “for all top-level competitions”, with its implementation at the discretion of individual competition organisers.

While the Premier League was the only top league in Europe to revert to a maximum of three substitutes in a condensed 2020-21 season — even as managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola voiced concerns about player fatigue — there was been widespread support for the move and now it will be adopted in Northern Ireland, where the largely part-time clubs endured a punishing fixture schedule last season.

Premier League clubs in England did agree to introduce the IFAB’s trial of additional permanent concussion substitutions earlier this year.

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The IFAB believe that where there is any doubt about a player having been concussed, the players should be protected by being “permanently” removed from the match and to facilitate this, the player’s team should not suffer a numerical disadvantage by prioritising the player’s welfare.

Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar said: “The introduction of five subs and a head injury sub will be welcomed by clubs. If a player is substituted with a head injury, after assessment from medical staff, he will sit out two weeks.”

NIFL and the Premiership clubs have been finalising the rules for this season and it’s expected last term’s curtailment plan — in the worse case scenario of the league not finishing due to the pandemic — will be rolled over into this campaign.

The 2019-2020 season was halted at the 31-game mark and sparked bitter arguments over finishing positions and European money.

Coleraine chairman and NIFL board member Colin McKendry said: “It’s too early to do away with a curtailment plan.

“We didn’t need the curtailment plan last season but you need to have something in place. It’s there to fall back on in a worse case scenario.”

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