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Irish Premiership in crisis: Legal action threatened if no solution can be found before NIFL Board meet


On mission: Glens’ Joe Crowe

On mission: Glens’ Joe Crowe

©INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

The National Stadium at Windsor Park (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The National Stadium at Windsor Park (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Mick McDermott

Mick McDermott

�INPHO/Brian Little

On mission: Glens’ Joe Crowe

Failure to compromise in the next 24 hours could signal legal action being launched to end the current impasse in the Danske Bank Premiership.

This is a critical and crucial time for the future of Irish League football.

Sponsors, broadcasters, UEFA and fans are watching and hoping that, following a prolonged period of time, an agreement is finally reached on how to conclude the season.

A decision needs to be made and is expected at a Northern Ireland Football League Board meeting tomorrow night, but the thorny issue of European money is the major sticking point, dividing a large section of clubs against the top two teams in the table, Linfield and Coleraine.

In recent weeks, following the rejection of two proposals by an NIFL-appointed Steering Group, Glentoran and Crusaders have put forward plans in a bid to secure league-wide support.

The Glens suggested the season ending now and then a points-percentage formula being applied to distribute European prize money - but this was in relation to Premiership placings after each team had played each other home and away once, meaning Cliftonville would be in first place and Linfield second, with Mick McDermott (left) and Glentoran in third.

The Blues and Coleraine immediately deemed that unacceptable and Sunday Life Sport also understands they have rejected the proposal that Crusaders presented to clubs this week.

The Crues would like to see the league halted now, UEFA nominations based on current standings - plus the Irish Cup winners if it can be played - no relegation and two clubs promoted from the Bluefin Sport Championship.

Structured payments would be made to all Premiership, Championship and Premier Intermediate League clubs using funding from Europe and a half-a-million pounds loan from NIFL.

This would then be paid back over three years from sides competing in Europe.

Ten top-flight clubs are seriously intrigued by this suggestion, especially considering those vying for Europe will receive £75,000 and teams in the lower reaches of the table are guaranteed £50,000.

But once again, it has been shot down by Linfield and Coleraine, who are deeply concerned about the financial implications it could have for their respective sides.

An NIFL sub-committee - comprising Tommy Whiteside (Crusaders), Stephen Henderson (Glentoran) and Connaire McGreevy (Warrenpoint Town) - was hatched in an effort to try and persuade the Blues and Bannsiders to come on board with the new deal.

However, Linfield fear it could hit them by as much as £1million over three years in terms of European revenue - hypothetical and presumptuous maybe, but it's extremely rare for the Windsor Park club not to be involved in continental activity.

To counteract the Crusaders suggestion, Linfield held a Board meeting yesterday lunchtime and insist they will make their own recommendation on how to end the season at today's Premiership Management meeting, which is scheduled for 11am with all 12 clubs represented.

It is believed the Blues would like the Irish FA to make a financial contribution, but Northern Ireland's governing body has told Sunday Life Sport they will certainly not be putting up the £500,000 required by the Crusaders plan.

If Linfield's proposal is thrown out, Glentoran delegates will push to bring back their option of reverting to the so-called '22-game season'.

The Glens never received a vote on this suggestion and they would like to put it out to the clubs again for consideration.

The NIFL Board is set to officially meet tomorrow night and have asked that an agreed outcome be put before them so they can ratify the decision.

The Premiership's on-field season is effectively over. The IFA have stated their desire to open the transfer window for clubs competing in Europe by August 3 at the latest.

With the Irish Cup Final potentially scheduled for Friday, July 31, the transfer window could be brought forward.

Going into today's meeting, Sunday Life Sport understands that, while there is a willingness to negotiate and compromise, patience is growing thin and club representatives are willing to walk away and put the onus on the NIFL Board tomorrow night.

That, though, could bring about a serious conflict of interest as Linfield and Coleraine representatives are on the Board, while there are also members from clubs who would significantly prosper financially from Crusaders' proposal.

In recent days, clubs and the NIFL have been keen to portray talks as cordial, but there have been threats of legal action from all corners of the Premiership divide.

It seems Irish League football has 24 hours to sort itself out, otherwise it may suddenly be played in the courts.

NIFL Board

Brian Adams (Ards chairman and NIFL board chairman), Gerard Lawlor (Cliftonville chairman and NIFL board vice-chairman), Andrew Conn (Linfield), Colin McKendry (Coleraine), Colin Russell (Knockbreda), Aidan Murphy (Armagh City), Jonathan Madill (independent), Colin Kennedy (independent). Andrew Johnston is the Managing Director.

Belfast Telegraph