Belfast Telegraph

David Jeffrey: Irish League players choosing holidays over the Champions League? Give me a break

By David Jeffrey

As a player I craved the opportunity to play in Europe.

It was the ultimate test for us as part time footballers in the Irish League and I was fortunate to play  on 17 occasions for the Blues all over the continent and against some cracking sides.

An aspiration was fulfilled.

Therefore, call me old fashioned but, the idea of missing a match so I could lie on a beach was totally unthinkable.

Crusaders secured an outstanding result in the Champions League this week, overcoming full-time opposition in Levadia Tallinn.

It wasn’t a case of smash and grab in Estonia. On the balance of play, the Crues thoroughly deserved to go through on away goals. The fact that they had secured a 0-0 draw at Seaview in the first leg was like a victory for me as they knew if they scored one goal in Tallinn, then Levadia would have to get two.

Crusaders like other Irish League clubs had to think about  holiday cover. To me, a club shouldn’t really have to contemplate that scenario but it’s becoming more common now and in my opinion, that’s not a good thing.

A club plays all year for the glory of winning the League to get into Europe — or indeed winning the Irish Cup, or securing a lofty position in the Premiership — then when it comes to the crux, they are unavailable.

That to me is unacceptable.

I always held the view that as a player I was employed by the club and therefore, even though we were only part-time, I had a responsibility to always make myself available, when fit, for the club.

Players are paid a lot more money nowadays and so they should have an even greater responsibility.

I sympathise with those players who have families or they or their wives are involved in the teaching profession, for example, but to me, it still doesn’t excuse them.

Progressing in Europe brings so much financial security and can not only set you up for the season in terms of having the money to bring in new players but also for the following season.

Just look at Crusaders, with their win in Tallinn I understand they have gone a long way to clearing their debt and this will give extra money to manager Stephen to look at bringing in new players to bolster his squad ahead of the Danske Bank Premiership season.

Crusaders will play in Albania this week and the tie against Skenderbeu is, to me, very winnable.

Just think of the dividends that could follow that.

It’s also about our reputation on the European stage as we are representing Northern Ireland.

I, of course, had similar issues with players playing in Europe when I was at Linfield.

What frustrated me most was when a single player took off on holiday ahead of a game.

If you compete all season to get into Europe, then at least play in it.

If not, then you seriously have to look at a player’s wages.

Should they be paid all year round or just for the domestic season?

Maybe that would change a few players’ minds.

And they should also take a look at Harry McConkey’s Regions Cup team, who competed in a competition in Dublin last week.

His boys, who are all amateurs, produced more than commendable performances and results.

They took great pride in representing their country but in doing so had to either take unpaid leave or holidays.

They desperately wanted to play and make those sacrifices.

I salute all of those players.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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