Irish FA chiefs have paved the way for a momentous vote on the Danske Bank Premiership switching to summer football by removing a barrier in the calendar.
At an Emergency General Meeting held over the festive period, the Irish FA changed seven of its articles, one of which scrapped the duration of the football season in Northern Ireland.
Previously, all affiliated associations to the IFA were only permitted to play their competitions between August 1 and May 31, unless an extension — like the one applied due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year — was afforded by the Football Committee in exceptional circumstances.
However, after former Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill put forward recommendations for a summer season to help Premiership clubs in European competition, the IFA EGM has rewritten its articles to allow Leagues and Cups to be played at any time of year.
IFA President David Martin says: “We have amended the season to add greater flexibility to allow our clubs, should they wish to avail of the opportunity, to be match ready for European competition.”
NI Football League chairman Gerard Lawlor admitted: “If the 12 Premiership clubs tell the NIFL Board they want to change the season tomorrow, I would foresee no issues with that whatsoever.”
Talks over a change of format to the Premiership season have been ongoing for years.
In recent times, consultations have taken place with clubs and proposals have been put forward by NIFL, including an early July to late March season which was largely rejected.
Considering teams in European action usually start in July, clubs ultimately viewed this as defeating the purpose.
The main stumbling block for moving to a summer season, similar to clubs in the Republic of Ireland, has been a fear of losing the festive period revenue brought in. Also, clubs have been concerned about losing players and management to holidays and even fearful about losing valuable growing time for their grass pitches!
However, Sunday Life Sport understands while there may still be some apprehension to a season played over the summer months, clubs are willing to consider the move.
Linfield, Glentoran, Cliftonville, Crusaders and Larne are open to further discussions, and it is expected all members of NIFL, including Championship and Premier Intermediate clubs, will be brought into the conversation, considering the Irish FA's move is for the entire Northern Ireland football family.
A May to February model has been mooted before, giving teams time to prepare for European competition and also making sure the festive matches are taken into account.
A League would also have great flexibility to take breaks during a proposed season.
President Martin continued: "This is a significant change and the membership of the Irish FA felt it was important to change the articles at this time. This is for all football in Northern Ireland - from the senior game right down to the grassroots.
"A League, if it wants to change its current format, still has to make an application to the Irish FA Board."
NIFL Chairman Lawlor added: "Pre-Covid there was a big debate about a change in the season but if our 12 senior clubs, and we would need to work with the Championship and PIL, tell the NIFL Board they want to play summer football they are pushing an open door. The problem is at the moment from discussions we have had at Premiership level we don't have a majority of clubs looking to play summer football."