Belfast Telegraph

Top Irish League clubs set to back move to summer football

Linfield chairman Roy McGivern is among the advocates of a May to February season in the Irish League.
Linfield chairman Roy McGivern is among the advocates of a May to February season in the Irish League.

By Steven Beacom in the Sunday Life

The Irish League's big hitters are ready to back moves for a dramatic calendar change in the domestic season which would see top-flight football played here over the summer.

Sunday Life Sport exclusively outlined the prospect of an historic switch in dates last weekend and we can now reveal that a campaign starting in May and ending in February is set to be supported by several top clubs with heavy influence in the corridors of power.

In the past, Linfield have been against any move from the traditional August to May schedule but, with chairman Roy McGivern and general manager Pat Fenlon behind a May to February campaign, the Blues are likely to give the go ahead for change.

It is understood that key players Coleraine and Ballymena United are also behind a switch and, with Crusaders and Glentoran expected to back it, that means some extremely powerful voices in Irish League football prepared to make a case and vote for a different model.

As revealed by the Sunday Life last week, the Northern Ireland Football League asked the 12 Danske Bank Premiership clubs from the season just past to provide their views by Friday on various options laid out at a meeting earlier this month attended by international boss Michael O'Neill, who is passionately behind a switch in the calendar.

The options provided by NIFL are to stick with the same formula or change. If clubs vote for the latter, they will be asked to go with a slightly extended League of Ireland-type season, which runs from February to October, or go with May to February, which is favoured as it maintains the popular festive fixtures.

Both options would see Irish League clubs enter European competition mid-season, with O'Neill declaring at the meeting that will significantly improve their chances of progressing in the Champions League and Europa League.

"We don't have a club position on it at the minute," said Linfield chairman McGivern.

"There are different views within the club in terms of staying where we are or changing the season. We will have meetings with supporters clubs in the next few weeks to determine their views. The Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) will provide clubs with a consultation document ahead of a yes or no vote and we'll consider that.

"My personal view is that European football is very important to clubs and we need to look at an option that will make us more competitive. My understanding is our clubs would be against the League of Ireland model as it seems to be too condensed, but the May to February schedule keeps the festive fixtures and may be considered by clubs."

Having received all the feedback from the clubs, NIFL will send out a consultation document, with a final decision on the future expected in the next month.

Regardless of what is decided, next season will run as normal, but if the May to February scenario is approved, there is likely to be a shortened season in 2020/2021 prior to the date changes being implemented for the 2021/2022 campaign.

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