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Irish FA chief reveals where £3.8m UEFA funding will go after Premiership calls for support

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The Irish FA have finally shed light on their plans for the UEFA Hat-Trick money.

The Irish FA have finally shed light on their plans for the UEFA Hat-Trick money.

The Irish FA have finally shed light on their plans for the UEFA Hat-Trick money.

Disgruntled Danske Bank Premiership chiefs have been told they are not the only show in town after a week of public utterances against Northern Irish football's governing body, but the door for financial assistance from the Irish FA remains open.

In the last week, representatives from Crusaders, Linfield and Larne have voiced consternation over a lack of monetary support from the IFA.

They point to the fact UEFA have recently given Windsor Park chiefs an advance of £3.8million through their Hat Trick programme, with no stipulations or restrictions on how the money is spent, yet clubs in the Irish League feel as though they have been given the cold shoulder at a time of crisis.

With football in Northern Ireland frozen out since March 13 and as clubs battle to survive the effects of Covid-19, they believe now is the time for urgent financial assistance from those who hold the purse strings at IFA headquarters.

As criticism forged their way, the Irish FA largely remained silent in the last seven days on how they will justify spending UEFA money with a spokesperson only saying: "These are funds which have already been allocated to the organisation by UEFA pre the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic."

IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson refused to be drawn into a statement clarifying matters and instead has opted to wait until this Wednesday when he will address the NI Football League's Premiership Committee.

However, in an insightful interview with Sunday Life Sport, Irish FA President David Martin reveals and goes into detail on where the money will be spent.

We have to look at the whole landscape; that's what we are here for.

But he is also quick to quell the notion that safeguarding the future of senior football is not a priority for the Irish FA and, along with a thriving 'football estate' in Northern Ireland, the top football administrator is determined to see the Premiership flourish again when the coronavirus crisis dissipates.

"The Irish FA will never shut the door on any discussions," insists President Martin, who, rather than the quick fix of getting this season up and running again, is greatly concerned about how clubs will operate at the start of the next campaign without the usual reliable revenue from gate receipts, sponsorship, social clubs and corporate hospitality.

"You're always open to discuss any issue and our staff will discuss any issues with NIFL.

"The focus seems to be on the Premiership but that isn't the only League within NIFL.

"We also have plans to support the intermediate game, we have referee development and we want to take it to the next level.

"There is also a new amateur game plan. We have to look at the whole landscape; that's what we are here for."

In 2017, following Northern Ireland's hugely successful Euro 2016 campaign, the Irish FA drew up a new five-year strategy to encompass all strands of football throughout the country.

It's not just the senior League which will be impacted but it is the flagship of the senior game in this country and we don't want to see that diminished in any way.

President Martin says the Irish FA rely on UEFA's Hat Trick funding in order for that plan to be implemented.

"Our funding is earmarked towards delivering the strategy," stresses President Martin.

"There are five pillars to the strategy - to rebuild the football estate; to break into the top 40 of European Leagues; to revitalise the 'everyday game' which are Leagues below the Championship; the Northern Ireland team to challenge every time; and build a thriving stadium business. We also want to serve the community.

"The board makes the decision about how we are going to utilise funds and how we deliver all five strands of the strategy.

"In terms of rebuilding the football estate, we have a national training centre and that has been a fairly long-term goal and we also have had stadium improvements.

"There will be improvements to that, you can't not make improvements.

"The likes of disability football falls within serving the community and that is another example of where money goes.

"Our disability national team has qualified for the 2021 World Championships in Australia. The big challenge will be getting there.

"That was always going to be a challenge but with coronavirus, I'm not sure what challenges there will be in the future but all those things are in the air.

"We are committed to that team going there, though.

"There is an education programme at the Ulster University for former senior international women's players and former Irish League players; that's all part of what we are doing in the community.

"There is also work around the stadium area and there will be funds put into that. It's not massive, but a fair bit."

The Northern Ireland senior international squad have been tasked, in the strategy, with challenging in every qualifying campaign and reaching the tournament every other time.

But the IFA have also set up an academy to enhance the prospects of producing the next generation of senior internationals.

President Martin adds: "We've been challenging for major tournaments at senior men's level. We qualified in 2016, we really challenged for the World Cup in 2018 and we are challenging again for Euro 2020.

"There are funds also going into the Irish FA Elite Youth Academy at the Ulster University.

"We have a four-year arrangement, but the clubs and Leagues need a plan and we have a plan for the entire landscape.

"It's not just the senior League which will be impacted but it is the flagship of the senior game in this country and we don't want to see that diminished in any way.

"Our staff will work with NIFL to make sure we remain at the level we're at. A lot has been achieved by NIFL in the past seven years. The League is our flagship and we want it to flourish but these are difficult times for everybody.

"The package was all agreed pre-Covid-19 and the strategy has been determined but, no matter what, conversations can always take place."

Belfast Telegraph