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Summer football could benefit all Irish League clubs, says Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry


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New way: Coleraine’s Stewart Nixon beats Glenavon’s Jonny Tuffey to put his side in front in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win at the Showgrounds but the empty terrace behind the goal has again brought the summer football debate into sharp focus

New way: Coleraine’s Stewart Nixon beats Glenavon’s Jonny Tuffey to put his side in front in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win at the Showgrounds but the empty terrace behind the goal has again brought the summer football debate into sharp focus

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry

�INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

New way: Coleraine’s Stewart Nixon beats Glenavon’s Jonny Tuffey to put his side in front in Tuesday night’s 2-1 win at the Showgrounds but the empty terrace behind the goal has again brought the summer football debate into sharp focus

Discussions surrounding the introduction of summer football in Northern Ireland may have struck a few roadblocks but Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry believes it's not mission impossible.

The Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) have been consulting clubs on any possible seasonal change but opinion throughout Danske Bank Premiership clubs and their supporters is varied.

Finding a compromise agreement that will satisfy the majority of top flight clubs is an unenviable task, particularly when we know at least two sides - Glenavon and Ballymena United - are opposed to a summer switch.

NIFL thought that an early July start may represent a possible compromise but Crusaders and Linfield both feel this is too close to European qualifiers and could spark a fixtures headache.

Glentoran are also understood to have their concerns regarding the merits of a July kick-off.

The Crues favour a May to February model, while the Blues may be open to a June start.

It's thought that any change would need a 75% majority vote in favour - the backing of eight of the 12 Danske Bank Premiership clubs - to proceed.

And if agreement cannot be reached then the calendar will not change.

We already have a product which is popular but can we make it better?

I do believe that some agreement can be reached for the betterment of everyone, not just one or two clubs Colin McKendry

Those who favour a move to summer football predict improved showings in Europe, better weather and better pitches.

But in a largely part-time league, would players be content to give up their summer holidays?

NIFL have a job on their hands trying to square this circle, but talks are ongoing and Bannsiders chairman McKendry feels the summer battle isn't over yet.

While some clubs like Dungannon Swifts say they are "neutral" on the issue, Coleraine believe our game has the potential to sparkle even brighter in the summer.

"We would like to move the season to either the start of May, June or July," said McKendry.

"Ideally, the start of May might be better, but July 1 is also worth considering as it's moving the game forward. Hopefully we can play in better weather.

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Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry

�INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry

"I do believe that some agreement can be reached for the betterment of everyone, not just one or two clubs.

"There's no point in moving to suit a few clubs, this is to improve the whole game, and I'm hopeful the issue can be taken forward.

"My original thought was to adopt a League of Ireland model, but that's a radical change and early June or July can be accommodated by everyone. We should try something to see if it works.

"We can always change back. We remain open minded and still firmly believe we can make the league better by playing in the summer more.

"We have a great product but we can still make it better for everyone.

I believe an All-Island League is a step too far, I don't think that will happen anytime soon Colin McKendry

"I think the July 1 start date is a step in the right direction, and I respect other clubs might want to start earlier but it's important that any change we make is a constructive one that suits all the clubs."

An even more radical change would see the formation of an All-Island League but, while clubs have considered that proposal, it seems more likely a Setanta Cup style knockout tournament could someday be resurrected.

"I would be in favour of an all-Ireland knockout tournament," added McKendry.

"I know the Setanta Cup had its highs and lows but it had some good moments as well. It was good exposure for our clubs and we can learn from playing southern teams.

"We are open to anything that makes our league better and more professional.

"I believe an All-Island League is a step too far, I don't think that will happen anytime soon.

"I know there is a fear of losing European places and I can't see that happening.

"Travelling doesn't worry me personally, but Coleraine would be disadvantaged in terms of the distances covered for the games."

Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey this week told the Belfast Telegraph that football in Northern Ireland will receive £36.2m of government money, as agreed five years ago, but there is no guarantee that the finance will go to the original designated areas.

Now that Stormont has returned, Hargey has confirmed that the £36.2m will be made available, revealing that she ordered a review into where it will end up - suggesting the Irish Football Association will play a key role in who gets what.

In November, Coleraine revealed their own ambitious plans to transform the club's Showgrounds home.

The League Cup holders proposed to regenerate the pitch, grandstands and surrounding areas at the Ballycastle Road ground. Included in the proposals are a new 4G pitch and training facilities, as well as major work on a new clubhouse and stands.

The club says it hopes to install the artificial pitch in the summer ahead of the 2020/21 season.

McKendry believes the Irish FA must step up to the plate to ensure any additional funding goes where it's needed.

"I think the distribution of the money will have to come through the Irish Football Association," he added.

"In terms of delivery, we've seen a massive project at Windsor Park and it was dealt with very well by the IFA. Government support is vital and I believe the money will come.

"There will be a public consultation, but Coleraine, like other clubs, are in great need and we will state our case.

"As a parent association, the IFA would have a say in the grant distribution, and the Northern Ireland Football League board would need to be involved also as they are part of the football family.

"We are building a relationship with our local government, the Causeway Coast and Glens and hopefully we can establish a constructive working relationship.

"We are an ideal community hub and we can open our facilities to more than just the football community."

It's hoped that facilities will become more family friendly, no matter what time of the year we are watching matches.

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