SECRETARY of the Northern Ireland Intermediate League Gerry Stewart remains hopeful that the 2019-20 season will resume and can be completed.
Last week the local league body informed the Irish Football Association (IFA) that they preferred to complete the season if it was at all feasible. The league’s management committee said they would prefer to extend the season into the summer months if that option was made available to them.
With football at all levels put on hold indefinitely due to the escalating coronavirus outbreak, the IFA wrote to all divisional associations outlining a number of preferred options regarding the current season.
These included the season to be voided, the season to end now with the trophies being awarded based on league positions on March 13 – the date of the original suspension – or to have all matches completed even if that meant games being played in the months of June and July.
Like their Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and Western League counterparts, the Northern Ireland Intermediate League responded by indicating it preferred to play the season out to a natural conclusion.
Speaking to the Chronicle this week, Mr Stewart confirmed that position. He said, “All but two of our clubs wanted to see the season completed.
“We put the options to all the clubs and the consensus was to finish the league no matter how long it takes.
“As you know there were a number of options available, one being to award the trophies and titles to the teams on the date of the initial suspension which was March 13th.
“League leaders Newbuildings only had played four league games and you can’t give a club the league title having played only four games.
“The League Cup Final was to be played in Limavady recently but it has had to be put back.
“The bottom line is we only have 20 games to play to complete the league so we could squeeze that into three weeks.
“One game would obviously finish the League Cup although there might be a question mark over the knockout cup.
“What I would say is people are forgetting that we need factor in time for AGMs and so on, the things that take time and work in between seasons. That said everybody wants to get back to playing football and those involved in the NI Intermediatye League are no different.
“It’s not the most important thing in life at the minute but at the end of the day it’s part and parcel of life for a lot of people.”
While Stewart is hopeful that the league season can be completed he confirmed that the new West of Ulster Intermediate League Cup competition would have to be shelved for another season.
That inaugural cross-border knockout tournament was launched at the tail-end of last year and brought together teams competing in the Northern Ireland Intermediate League and the Donegal-based West of Ulster League.
It was the first competition of its kind at that level with all thirteen eligible teams committed to taking part. The draw had already been made but before a ball was kicked all football was suspended because of Covid-19.
“That was the first thing that was knocked on the head,” continued the league secretary, who also sits on the IFA Intermediate Committee.
“It’s unfortunate but that’s the way these things work out sometimes. But as far the competition goes it’s not the end of the story. It’s something will no doubt be given due consideration in the future.
“Ourselves, the Fermanagh and Western, the Mid Ulster and most likely the North West Junior League will all be singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of trying to get the season completed.
“I can’t speak for the North West but having talked to one of their representatives it seems many of their member clubs are thinking along similar lines.
“That’s, of course, if we all get the opportunity to play football, this thing might well go on for six months, nobody knows.”
All things considered there does appear to be a real determination to complete the season, although Stewart said the resumption of football, certainly at lower levels, could depend very much on when council authorities re-open their facilites again.
“It might not be straight forward, there may be other obstacles,” continued the secrectary.
“The main question is when will council facilties be available again? It’s one thing football starting up again but what would the likes of Strabane Athletic do if Melvin remains closed? They would probably be
looking for some of their neighbouring clubs to help them out, an act of goodwill so to speak
“At the end of the day a lot could depend on what councils decide to do.”