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NI football to return in July with Irish Cup Windsor double header


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Irish FA president David Martin

Irish FA president David Martin

Irish FA president David Martin

The final placings in the Danske Bank Premiership have been put in the hands of an independent football data consultancy - a move which provoked an angry response from basement side Institute yesterday - but the Irish FA say it's full steam ahead for the Irish Cup with the semi-finals and final pencilled in for late July.

Although the Premiership season has been curtailed due to the Covid-19 crisis and a mathematical model will be applied to determine the final standings, there are still four clubs willing to play the Irish Cup matches without supporters at Windsor Park.

There will be a semi-final double header on Monday, July 27 with Glentoran taking on Cliftonville and Ballymena United facing Coleraine before the final is played on Friday, July 31 (8pm). The final-four games will kick off at 4pm and 8pm with the Challenge Cup Committee conducting a draw to determine who plays first.

All clubs will need to appoint a Covid-19 officer and the games will only proceed with Government backing.

"It's our plan to play the Irish Cup, provided the health professionals permit it," says Irish FA president David Martin.

The Irish FA will provide Covid-19 testing for all personnel and it's expected the matches will be televised.

Ballymena United chairman John Taggart said: "I got a phone call from Irish FA chief-executive Patrick Nelson and I confirmed to him that we would play in the Irish Cup if the health authorities are satisfied."

Meanwhile, during the discussions over the sharing of European money it has emerged that Linfield offered to place 18% of the funds they would earn from European qualification into what has been dubbed a 'hardship fund' - a pot of money for the benefit of clubs.

That figure is estimated to be around £110,000.

The Blues are expected to play in a four-team Champions League preliminary round mini-tournament in Nyon in August and if they don’t win a semi-final and final, they will drop into the Europa League qualifiers.

Coleraine did not commit to a figure but did offer to make a sizeable contribution into the Euro pot to be shared while the third team that qualifies for Europe will also make a donation.

NIFL said they would be supporting a hardship fund and clubs hope the Irish FA will also make finances available.

Premiership sides accepted that the league season could not be concluded on the pitch but they were unable to reach agreement on European nominations and how much Uefa money should be shared among clubs.

The formula decided by an independent football data consultancy to determine final league placings will be “in accordance with Uefa principles”.

The body will report back later this week with their findings and Crusaders are possibly sweating on Cliftonville edging ahead of them into third place.

Institute look set to be relegated with Portadown promoted from the Championship and the Blues awarded the league title.

Stute issued a statement yesterday, arguing that sporting integrity has been “severely compromised”. The club said: “The Institute Board are both saddened and dismayed at the NIFL Board decision to impose automatic relegation in the current circumstances.

“The club has consistently argued for the Premiership Committee and the NIFL Board to comply with the principle of sporting integrity and we believe that that principle has been severely compromised.

“Our club position has also been to encourage the league to stay true to the concept of solidarity. Adherence to this principle means that the league should work collectively to avoid decisions that would impose unnecessary or disproportional consequences on any individual club.

“For this reason, we supported the promotion of teams from lower divisions but opposed the enforced relegation of teams who statistically may have survived if the season had been played to a natural conclusion.

“Confusingly, all 12 Premiership clubs verbally agreed against enforced relegation but the NIFL Board have chosen to reject this opinion. Options were presented to expand and/or restructure the Premiership for the 2020/21 season and whilst there would have been some minor issues with these options we believe that they would still have represented a ‘least harm’ scenario. Institute Football Club would like to thank the many clubs who have contacted us and who agree with our stance.

“The club will reserve any further comment until the deliberations of the independent evaluation panel are known.”

Stute boss Sean Connor added: “I have been involved with professional football in Ireland, north and south, now for over 15 years. Good days and bad, a bitter sacking and some very difficult times. However, today is the lowest I have felt in all that time. The integrity of the game has been tarnished.”

Belfast Telegraph