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'Tail is wagging the dog': NI Football League must take control as talks rumble on, says Newry boss

 

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Darren Mullen

Darren Mullen

�INPHO/Jonathan Porter

Darren Mullen

Northern Ireland Football League chiefs and representatives of Danske Bank Premiership clubs are set for an intense weekend of negotiations as they aim to strike a deal on the sharing of European money and how to finally end the season.

A Crusaders proposal to resolve the impasse has been knocked back by Linfield and Coleraine, leaving the process in danger of unravelling.

The Blues and Bannsiders feel they are at the top of the table on merit and their share of the Uefa funds should reflect that.

The NIFL board will have to help clubs find a compromise agreement otherwise legal action cannot be ruled out.

The clubs at least seem to agree that the last seven rounds of league fixtures cannot be played in August as the transfer window needs to open for teams playing in Europe to recruit players, and that is only allowed when the season is over.

Last Tuesday, NIFL presented the clubs with two options to end the season - by playing two more rounds of fixtures or for an independent panel to choose a mathematical formula that would determine final league standings.

Clubs rejected both options and came up with their own plan to play all seven games when it was safe for supporters to attend the grounds, but it's now accepted that won't happen.

The discussions over how the European money should be shared have at times been heated but as yet there is no agreement.

There's support for the Irish Cup semi-finals and final to go ahead next month but the Uefa cash talks are proving difficult.

Crusaders proposed that the Champions League nominee 'donate' 30% of their prize money, and for the two Europa League clubs to share 20% each.

Together with a loan, which could be taken out by the Northern Ireland Football League, the money would then be split between Premiership teams, with each club potentially receiving a fee in the region of £50,000.

The clubs who are still in the hunt for European qualification would also be given a top-up of £75,000.

Clubs in the Championship (£10,000 each) and Premier Intermediate League (£5,000 each) would also benefit from financial support.

As part of the proposal, any club competing in Europe for the two seasons after would then be asked to contribute 20% of their prize money to repay the NIFL loan.

There would be no relegation and two teams being promoted from the Championship to create a 14-team league. Newry City boss Darren Mullen said: "If I was in Linfield and Coleraine's position, I would ask why would any other club deserve so much European money?

"These arguments have a knock-on effect on our leagues. NIFL need to make a decision and stick by it or you will have a situation where the tail is wagging the dog and that's not good for any of us. Issues shouldn't be played out on social media."

Linfield and Coleraine also rejected a proposal to nominate European places after 22 league games had been played - which would have seen Cliftonville qualifying for the Champions League but not declared champions and Linfield and Glentoran in the Europa League spots.

Glentoran and other clubs could float that proposal again if there's little progress in the talks.

Thursday night's meeting involving the Premiership clubs was described as "positive" but nothing has been agreed.

Larne owner Kenny Bruce said he remained hopeful, adding on Twitter: "@larnefc supporters & staff I assure you everyone involved in finding a conclusion to our season is working tirelessly so football wins. I appreciate it's frustrating but taking all the time available to reach a united decision is a good thing. #unitedwestandtogetherwewin."

NIFL will have to do plenty of talking in the coming days as they will need to plan next season's calendar once this campaign is ended.

Belfast Telegraph