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NIFL clubs 'unanimously agree' to shut down league in Covid fight

NIFL hit pause button with virus testing arranged to help finish the campaign


Locked up: Irish League football will pause after today's games until January 23.

Locked up: Irish League football will pause after today's games until January 23.

Locked up: Irish League football will pause after today's games until January 23.

Danske Bank Premiership clubs are hoping that Covid-19 testing can save their season after the Northern Ireland Football League announced a two-week suspension, starting after Saturday's matches.

After health concerns were raised by players, staff, officials and supporters, NIFL felt they had to act and pause the season.

With the Irish FA's backing, games will be shelved until January 23 and Covid-19 testing for players, coaches and officials will be introduced before matches resume. All football activity will cease from 6.00pm today and clubs can commence training on January 18 in advance of their next matches on January 23.

Covid testing was crucial last summer in allowing the Irish Cup to be concluded.

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey said: "It's so sad the number of folk who are losing their lives. For me, testing gives us a chance but if football must be suspended for the sake of the community we've got to do that."

Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar said: "The clubs unanimously agreed this was the right thing to do. It's disappointing but Covid is dangerous and we've all got to fight it."

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Although the Premiership is allowed to continue as an elite sport behind closed doors and the majority of clubs expressed a desire to play on, a growing number of postponements led to calls for a break.

In NIFL's curtailment plan, they stated the season would be "left unfinished" if fewer than 22 matches had been played.

There would be no relegation from the Premiership or promotion into the Premiership and the NIFL Board, in consultation with Uefa, would determine the participants in the Uefa club competitions. A maximum of three games will go ahead today after further Covid-19 outbreaks led to postponements, although even Warrenpoint Town's home game against Dungannon Swifts is subject to a pitch inpection. The north Belfast derby between Cliftonville and Crusaders is scheduled to go ahead, along with Coleraine's rearranged trip to Carrick Rangers.

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: "We have been monitoring the health situation closely and listening to participants right across the game.

"Football continues to have a key role in tackling this pandemic and it is in this spirit that this temporary suspension has been enforced."

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