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Revealed: What NIFL's proposal paper says about two options for season conclusion

 

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Calm approach: Institute boss Sean Connor

Calm approach: Institute boss Sean Connor

Calm approach: Institute boss Sean Connor

The Belfast Telegraph has seen the Northern Ireland Football League's Recommendation Paper which was distributed to clubs and it could be interpreted as a 'hard sell' document, worded in favour of clubs backing the two-game proposal.

Linfield, Coleraine and Cliftonville, two of which were represented on the Steering Group, are understood to be backing the proposal.

But a lot of clubs still have concerns on a number of fronts including testing, the furlough scheme, fitness of players and the health risk.

NIFL would need to reach the magical 'seven' figure to say a majority of clubs back the return to play proposal.

While the benefits of playing the matches are highlighted, there are also statements which could be viewed as being warnings to clubs should they reject the Covid-19 Steering Group's recommendation to conclude the season.

Whichever proposal the clubs go for, promotion and relegation will apply to the automatic positions only and there will be no promotion/relegation play-off.

The 12th place side are automatically relegated and that leaves Institute in a vulnerable position but, interestingly, the paper states that using the mathematical model agreed by an independent panel, "the use of raw scores calculated on the number of games played is an inaccurate process as the opponents of various teams will differ between clubs over a partial season".

Second-from-bottom Warrenpoint Town are only three points ahead of Stute.

Institute manager Sean Connor says he's hopeful the Irish League community can still remain united through this difficult process of curtailing a league season.

"We must try to stay united as a football community and try to protect every club within the pyramid," said Connor.

"There must be some sporting integrity. If you are bottom of the table after 38 games then that's where you deserve to be.

"Our club will make a decision and I'm sitting back as the manager and waiting to see how the situation develops. We have a really good chairman in Bill Anderson who conducts himself professionally and in the best interests of football in Northern Ireland, as well as our club.

"My side of the business is the football end. I'm in the dark as much as anyone.

"I'm just a manager so my opinion mightn't have much influence but I believed a 14-team Premiership might have been broadly welcomed.

"I felt clubs wouldn't suffer then and it was an opportunity to try something fresh and different.

"I've learned a long time ago not to worry about things that are beyond my control."

The paper also states that "testing will be provided at no cost to clubs" but there is no indication of how many tests will be needed, at what cost and what will the protocol be if a player tests positive.

On the issue of players' wages, the paper states: "Clubs can continue to furlough until restart agreed. Potential for players to be removed from furlough for a short period and placed back on furlough (up to Oct) if season 2020-21 is delayed. (Waiting on HMRC clarification)."

If clubs vote for the alternative mathematical model, there is a warning that prize money could be impacted along with commercial income, data and streaming income for the season.

The paper also states that should the Irish Cup be played, the third-placed side in the Premiership (Crusaders) would be awarded Europa League qualification only in the event that the Irish Cup winners have already qualified for Europe as a result of finishing first or second in the Premiership.

One club official said: "This process has been poorly handled and it could cause difficulties as we move forward. The Irish FA are driving to get the season finished.

"The rest of us need to decide if this is the right and safe thing to do. I would suspect a lot of clubs are considering voting against it but that's based on listening to the responses on Tuesday night."

Premiership clubs have until 5pm today to inform NIFL of their preference.

Belfast Telegraph