Someone needs to take the bull by the horns and come up with the best solution to the completion of this season. It is starting to become more laughable by the day. Statements with no real direction come in, yet we have no real idea to what the NIFL want to do to finish this league season. The anticipation is not that funny anymore.
As a budding coach myself who coaches a team within the Emergency Service Premier League (hook them up on Twitter and give them a follow), I received a message from the English FA with detailed guidance on how to get players back training safety on the training ground. Lo and behold this week I see the IFA produce a statement seven days later with the same guidance for clubs to start training again. Cut and paste with different colours.
Clubs are now allowed to train with social distancing measures in place. The players can train in small groups of six with a coach. Strict hygiene protocols will be in place, with players not allowed to use the changing rooms, etc. But I read this week Tiernan Lynch saying “it would be a huge physical strain on players to start straight away”. Thanks, Tiernan, exactly what I said from the start. Players can’t get up to match fitness with sessions on Zoom, rolling around the living room floor for 6-7 weeks. It’s crazy asking players to come out of 6-7 weeks lockdown to rush and finish off a season. Let’s remember the IFA will have to get the showpiece money-spinner Irish Cup played as well.
Clubs have already started moving for the resumption of next season, namely Linfield. In this time of uncertainty, they have released Josh Robinson and Chris Casement. Both were offered improved deals to stay at the club, but in these times of uncertainty, they declined. Which makes me wonder, have they received a down payment or a pre-payment to sign for another club? Larne like to give a player a nice signing-on fee. Watch this space!
Also leaving the Blues are Ryan Strain and Daniel Reynolds. Both of whom I am sure will be not short of clubs asking for their signatures. Two players who have returned to their parent clubs in Scotland after successful loan periods at the Blues are Rohan Ferguson and Rory Currie. Ferguson, from what I saw, has a bright future ahead. The Blues have also extended the contracts of Shayne Lavery, Mark Stafford, and Daniel Kearns for a further year.
Coleraine have also been busy this week extending contracts to some of their most influential players. We will have another two years of Eoin Bradley tormenting defences as well as Ian Parkhill also signing on for another two years. Influential midfielder Stephen Lowry has signed on for another season, while Aaron Canning has also put pen to paper by signing on for another three years.
Two young Irish League stars have now moved across the water signing with two major clubs. A credit to the kids and also to the youth development at Dungannon and Glentoran. The Swifts’ Conor Bradley has signed a professional contract with Liverpool, and the Glens’ Charlie Lindsay has signed a professional contract with Glasgow Rangers. Good luck to both and hopefully we will see you in the National set-up within the next few years. For me, who spent a lot of time watching the youth through the years, I am really enjoying watching how the kids at the Glens are flourishing. What a great youth set-up they have had through the years at the Oval. In contrast, I don’t know what has happened with the Seaview youth development lately. We haven’t seen anyone breakthrough there since the emergence of Gavin Whyte.
So, when do you actually think the season will finish? UEFA’s deadline is coming up on Friday, and they will want an answer. I await Friday with anticipation. Clubs are offering help and advice to the NIFL, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with. But what we do know? Their big secret master plan will have to be unveiled for that day, and I really hope they get this correct. Not for the sake of the money-men that have come in and invested heavily in the league. But for the reputation of the league and the players and fans alike.