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Irish FA should have taken league decision out of clubs' hands to avoid blame game

Liam Beckett


Tempers have been fraying across the Irish League during drawn out decision-making process on how to end the season.

Tempers have been fraying across the Irish League during drawn out decision-making process on how to end the season.

Inpho/Stephen Hamilton

Tempers have been fraying across the Irish League during drawn out decision-making process on how to end the season.

Normally by this time of the year, football fans are on wind down and re-charging their batteries for the new season ahead.

We certainly shouldn't still be debating the campaign just finished with any degree of animosity, yet that's exactly what's been happening.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created havoc across the world and, just like so many others, we had all of our sporting disciplines cancelled including football.

Since then, the whole process has been allowed to spiral downwards and that has only succeeded in creating no end of acrimony and discontent among members and various stakeholders. In truth, we've ended up in one almighty mess.

The debacle football has had to suffer should never have been allowed to run for as long as it did.

Initially, it may well have seemed like a good idea for the game's custodians to consult with all clubs and get them to submit their views and proposals, but when it became clear that reaching a satisfactory conclusion by a unanimous decision was as likely as finding feathers on a frog, that particular strand of the process should have been hit on the head immediately.

I'm well aware that it's the Northern Ireland Football League who mostly call the shots when it comes to league football and, although they are not entirely blameless in the shambles that ensued, I believe it required the sport's governing body to step in at a much earlier stage and seize the initiative. That's why I believe the buck stops with the Irish Football Association.

They should have taken the reins and responsibility much sooner and explained to all clubs that, in the best interests of the game's integrity, they would be taken out of the final equation and that the IFA would sit down and independently arrive at a prompt and proper democratic decision.

Once the IFA began dragging their heels, all that succeeded in doing was turning the whole thing into a complete minefield with people drawing lines in the sand and, as a result, the goalposts seemed to shift every other day.

As the impasse lengthened, some fuses began to get shorter and it came as no surprise when tempers began to fray around the edges and the whole process began to crumble.

Clubs, custodians and fans were all exhausted, frustrated, angry and disgusted with anyone and everyone, but it shouldn't have been allowed to get to that stage - it should all have been nipped in the bud at the very start.

The whole experience has left so many with feelings of mistrust and those doubts will take months, if not years, to mend with so many reputations tarnished in the eyes of many, including the NIFL and the IFA. To think all of this was avoidable really saddens me.

Don't get me wrong, any IFA decision at the outset still wouldn't have pleased everyone, but at least the vast majority of clubs and fans wouldn't have ended up being strung along for weeks on end and left with a game of pointing accusing fingers in each other's direction.

The whole process was allowed to fester like an open sore for far too long in the public domain and it's left a bitter taste in the mouths of many with the result that, if the truth be told, there will be no real winners.

Indeed, I honestly feel that it will be our sporting integrity that will be the real loser.

I'm on record as saying that if we ever needed guidance from the top then it was now.

This was the time for our leaders to lead, but I feel too many of them came up short of what's expected and the football fraternity deserve to know why.

Ian Baraclough has big shoes to fill but Northern Ireland fans will show him the same support they gave Michael O'Neill

I'm sure I speak for all Northern Ireland fans when I send my very best wishes to our new international manager Ian Baraclough.

Last weekend, the Irish Football Association ended all the speculation when they named the 49-year-old Englishman as their choice to replace Michael O'Neill.

Ian was, of course, previously Northern Ireland Under 21s boss and there's no doubt he caught the eye with the manner in which he transformed our youngsters into a side of real promise.

He's done a very impressive job at that level and he's also very assured, measured, articulate and professional off the pitch as well.

The new manager also has experience on the club scene at Scunthorpe, Sligo Rovers and Motherwell, so he's no novice. However, this is now the start of a brand new era and replacing arguably our greatest ever manager won't be easy.

Those are a big pair of shoes he's been asked to fill and that's why I'd ask the Green and White Army to be patient and give the new man the time and space he deserves in order to stamp his own mark on proceedings. Let's not forget it took Michael time before he got it right and it's therefore important we all afford Baraclough the same, but I've no doubt he's going to get 100% backing from the best supporters on the planet and I fully expect them to raise the roof the first time he leads the team out at Windsor Park.

Belfast Telegraph