Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Should the Irish League introduce a winter break as club bosses back idea?

By Graham Luney

Irish League football could be on course to introduce a winter break after a growing number of managers expressed support for the idea.

There is insufficient backing among top clubs for a complete switch to summer football but a break in January will hopefully ease fixture chaos and offer playing surfaces greater protection.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, his Ballymena United counterpart David Jeffrey and Warrenpoint Town’s Matthew Tipton argue that a winter break could work.

The farcical scenario of the League Cup semi-final between the Sky Blues and Cliftonville being postponed three times due to the freezing winter — it was finally played on Saturday — has reinforced the need for the Northern Ireland Football League and clubs to embrace change.

United boss David Jeffrey, whose side progressed to the League Cup final this Saturday against Dungannon Swifts, said: “I’ve long been an advocate of a winter break particularly directly after Christmas when the weather is not so good and people perhaps don’t have as much money after holiday spending. I don’t think we should go to summer football per se but it could be worthwhile to take a break and go again.”

Crues boss Baxter echoed those sentiments, saying: “I maintain there is room for manoeuvre for getting a break when the weather is particularly bad during the winter period. I’m not sure about a complete summer programme, but we are getting six weeks off a year and it has been relentless for us for four years.

“If they can find a few breaks in that structure that would be good. When the fixtures go against you and you lose them to the weather they mount up on you and you’ve got to play them in midweek. You have the deadline of the split and the play-offs so the games need to be played.

“There may be some wisdom in looking at it, possibly extend the season by a few weeks and change it somewhere else.”

The harsh winter weather has resulted in several postponements, leading to a fixture backlog. Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who has just been appointed Chief Football Officer as part of his new four-year contract extension with the Irish FA, believes Irish League football would benefit from a switch to the summer months but the vast majority of top flight clubs have rejected that idea.

NIFL have kicked off a consultation process with clubs and other parties to determine what appetite there is for change.

Warrenpoint boss Tipton added: “I would certainly support a winter break after the Boxing Day fixtures and let the boys recharge their batteries for a surge towards the end of the season.”

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