Football/Soccer

Scrap the Irish Premiership campaign for the greater good: Institute boss Sean Connor

Institute manager Sean Connor believes the Championship clubs have been treated poorly

INSTITUTE manager Sean Connor has urged the football authorities to rip up the current Irish Premiership campaign and move to summer football in the interests of all strands of the game here.

The outspoken Belfast man believes football's pyramid system has been “ignored” and “dismantled” with little interest being shown in leagues below the top division.

The Irish Premiership resumed last weekend after a two-week circuit-breaker with players and staff now being Covid tested.

Last year, the Irish Premiership was granted “elite” status and could therefore continue playing and training with all Covid protocols in place. Even though the Championship – the second tier of local football – is deemed a senior league, it was not afforded the same status and has been placed in cold storage.

Due to the successful agitation by a number of Championship clubs, the IFA granted ‘elite’ status to the Championship division before Christmas but it is up to the Stormont Executive to give the green light for its resumption.

The chances of that happening are currently slim given the high hospital admission and Covid-related death rates.

A crudely abbreviated 11-game Championship campaign has been mooted just so promotion and relegation between the divisions can be observed – but Connor has kicked that proposal into touch.

When the pandemic hit Institute were controversially relegated following last season’s truncated campaign and Portadown were promoted.

“There is protocol that after 11 games they can call the league,” he explained.

“I think 11 games is far too short to decide anything. We are asking for our football clubs to have the ability to do what the Premiership clubs are doing and play out a proper season. If we have to extend the season we will.”

Since last March, Championship clubs played endless friendly matches and a couple of games in regional cup competitions before the most recent lockdown pulled the plug on all activity. Their league 2020/21 campaign has yet to start.

“The testing could be extended and the Championship could be up and running,” Connor insisted.

“I would agree with what Mick McDermott [Glentoran manager] who said that we need to fundamentally strip back our football.

“The way things are going there is every reason to say: ‘Stop what we’re doing now. Let’s take a break. Let’s get this pandemic under control and let’s get everybody back playing from the middle of May through to November.

“A crisis always creates opportunity and we should reflect on how we got here and where can we go from here. I think people are unwilling – or people seem unwilling – to consider summer football and we have an opportunity now to say, let’s give it a go now for two years.

“Pitches will be better. When teams are playing in Europe they’ll be in the middle of a season instead of in pre-season. Some will say about the big gates at Christmas [as reason to vote it down]. We should be looking at marketing the game better; the quality of the Irish League is getting stronger year on year. Who’s to say more people won’t come out on a warm Saturday afternoon and watch an Irish League game or have more Friday night matches? It would be more family-friendly too.

“It boils down to a simple question: Are people prepared to make a decision based on the greater good of the game or are they prepared to be selfish?”

In order to validate the final standings of any elite league, promotion and relegation is an integral element.

Connor added: “FIFA came out last week and talked about this breakaway European League and they said the integrity of the game worldwide is based on promotion and relegation and the pyramid system in countries. For me, our pyramid system is being ignored and dismantled because everything is about the Premier League, everything is about 12 clubs.”

The Junior Cup and Harry Cavan Youth Cup were scrapped by the IFA earlier this week while no decision has been taken on the Irish Cup.

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Football/Soccer