Sunday football has been given an overwhelming thumbs up by Danske Bank Premiership clubs, with 75 per cent of them backing the idea for the new season.
Sunday Life Sport can reveal that Carrick Rangers, Dungannon Swifts, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Glenavon, Glentoran, Larne, Newry City and Portadown have all expressed an interest in playing on a Sunday in the 2022-23 campaign, with Ballymena United, Crusaders and Linfield against the suggestion at this stage.
At the end of last season, following the monumental success of the League Cup Final between Cliftonville and Crusaders played on a Sunday in March, the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) wrote to all the top-flight teams about what has been a controversial issue over the years and the response proved to be immensely positive.
With the vast majority of clubs behind it, NIFL Chief Executive Gerard Lawlor says the plan is to have “four or five” Sunday matches in the Irish Premiership before Christmas and a similar number or more after the festive period.
It means that Lawlor’s vision to have a weekend of Irish League football, with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, is close to realisation with work going on behind the scenes involving NIFL and clubs to schedule upcoming matches for Sundays.
Discussions will also take place with BBC Northern Ireland about screening some Sunday games live on their various platforms.
“Nine out of the 12 Danske Bank Premiership clubs have expressed an interest in playing on a Sunday,” explained Lawlor.
“I would be quite hopeful that we could have four or five Sunday games this side of Christmas. I think we can achieve that with so many teams interested in playing on a Sunday and we will be looking for something similar after Christmas.
“If it takes off, and the more successful it is, then there could be more games on a Sunday.”
Lawlor has been a force of nature since taking up the NIFL Chief Executive role last year and is fiercely determined to move the game forward here.
Speaking to Sunday Life Sport, he added: “Sunday football is another sign of change and a sign of progression in the Irish League. What this will do is open our League up to more opportunities and that can only be a good thing for football here.”
Nine Premiership clubs playing on a Sunday at some stage this season could become 11 if Champions Linfield and Irish Cup winners Crusaders were to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League or Europa Conference League, with matches played on a Thursday making it nigh on impossible for either club to reasonably contest their next Premiership fixtures on the following Saturday.
The sequence of events that has led to a 75% approval rating amongst clubs took off when Lawlor came up with the masterplan to stage last season’s BetMcLean League Cup Final on Sunday, March 13.
In what was a triumph for NIFL, a crowd of 11,103 — the biggest domestic attendance of the campaign — showed up at Windsor Park to watch Cliftonville defeat Coleraine 4-3 in a classic encounter.