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John Connolly: Championship clubs have been treated with 'utter contempt' and Irish Cup fiasco proves it



Angry: John Connolly is threatening to give up football

Angry: John Connolly is threatening to give up football

Angry: John Connolly is threatening to give up football

Experienced goalkeeper John Connolly has let rip at the football authorities in Northern Ireland, accusing them of treating clubs in the NIFL Championship with "utter contempt".

Connolly and his Ballinamallard United team-mates played their last league game back in March 2020 and there is no indication their season will resume anytime soon.

Only the Danske Bank Premiership has elite status, and it kicked off in mid-October, but the NI Executive and Sport NI refused the Irish FA's request to classify the Championship and Irish Cup as elite.

Former Cliftonville hero Connolly has thought about retiring following the latest round of strict Covid-19 restrictions but he is keeping the faith while refusing to hide his anger at both the Irish FA and Northern Ireland Football League.

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"I thought the move to make the Irish Cup an elite competition was an afterthought by the Irish FA and NIFL," said Connolly.

"They thought, hang on a minute, without elite status the Irish Cup is under threat.

"It proves to me the Championships clubs have been treated with utter contempt following this pandemic from both NIFL and the Irish FA.

"They even went ahead with the Irish Cup draw despite all the restrictions.

"Neither pushed for the Championship clubs to get elite status from the beginning.

"We could have started our league and had a break later.

"Championship clubs have to jump through hoops to get licences and I felt it should have started at the same time as the Premiership.

"There's no regular Covid-19 testing in the Premiership, so what is the difference?

"I've no doubt players haven't spoken up about how much their mental health has been impacted.

"People don't realise the value of having a routine, then you get false dawns and hopes are crushed.

"The football authorities went to the Government looking to classify Championship clubs as elite when cases were on the rise. It should have been done months ago."

With the health crisis deepening, clubs below Premiership level are left reflecting on the financial and emotional cost of being frozen out, while there is a danger talented players could be lost to the game.

"You've got to feel for the young kids who are being denied their sport, and it's possibly their only time in the week they get out of their homes," added Connolly.

"Kids are indoors when one of the best things for them is outdoor exercise.

"They could be the top players of the future, instead they could lose interest in football and do something else.

"When it was announced elite status wasn't going to be granted I said to my partner (Suzanne) that's me, it's time to give it up, but she encouraged me not to make any hasty decisions.

"There's nothing I can do about it now.

"If the body is coping with games I will continue playing.

"I feel okay, but it is hard to keep yourself motivated because of the setbacks.

"Some clubs, like ourselves, aspire to be promoted.

"Last season that opportunity was taken away from us and it might happen again.

"It's hard to keep positive in everyday life for everyone.

"But it's a game of football and I know people have lost their lives, so you're always seeing the bigger picture."

The Irish FA and NIFL say they are committed to helping clubs as much as they can during this unprecedented situation.

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