Irish Premiership: Coleraine chairman McKendry supportive of NIFL two-game proposal

Colin McKendry and Oran Kearney
Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry with manager Oran Kearney

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry has offered his support to the Northern Ireland Football League's preferred recommendation to conclude the 2019-20 Irish Premiership season by playing two more rounds of fixtures.

A number of other top-flight clubs are understood to be opposed to the plan on grounds of financial viability.

McKendry believes clubs should take up the option to protect sporting integrity, with the alternative being the establishment of an independent panel to decide final league positions.

Clubs were informed on Tuesday night that playing two more rounds of fixtures is the only way the campaign can be completed on the pitch following a recommendation from NIFL's Covid-19 Advisory Group.

If clubs reject the proposal, as they are expected to do, then the outcome of the season will be decided by the independent panel on a mathematical model.

The clubs have until 17:00 BST on Thursday to inform NIFL of their preference, with the league organisers required to inform Uefa of its plans for finishing the season by Friday.

BBC Sport NI has learnt that one Premiership club, Crusaders, unhappy with the options presented by NIFL, has written tonight to the Minister of Health asking for government intervention and advice in the process.

Playing two games 'realistic, fair and sporting option'

"Playing the two remaining games up to the split is the most realistic, fair and sporting option," said Coleraine chairman McKendry, whose side are in second place in the table, four points behind leaders Linfield.

"I think it is very important for sporting integrity that we come to some agreement that we play out the games on the pitch - this would allow us to be able to say we have played each other three times.

"Obviously Coleraine are in a good position in the league but a number of alternatives could happen to us in playing those two games - we could drop out of our current position or we could go on and win.

"It is a gamble for us but I believe it is the correct one to take so that we can get it finished on the playing pitch."

We need a 'can-do' attitude - McKendry approves two-game plan

A significant number of clubs are believed to be against playing the two games, citing concerns about the costs involved given that the matches would have to be played behind closed doors, as well as being worried about players having to come off furlough in order to play.

McKendry believes it is financially viable for his club to play the two matches and was positive about the challenges presented by furlough.

Financial and testing issues can be overcome

"We don't want clubs falling out with each other because we need to come out of all this as a united family. I believe that if we don't get this, it could set football in Northern Ireland back considerably," he continued.

"We need to have a 'can-do' attitude. If we explore all avenues and it is not possible to come to a satisfactory conclusion for all then there is the other option of the mathematical model, but I don't believe that will suit anyone.

"I don't believe it [the furlough issue] is insurmountable. I think further discussions can be taken on that and further advice to be given, based on other sporting situations that have arisen. We were given some information about that at the meeting and we just need some clarity on that.

"I believe we should exhaust all avenues to play the games out and I believe financially we can, with the assistance and the good guidance we have received from the IFA and NIFL.

"Our association has offered help to get to a fair level of testing that is adequate and would offset the issues that people would have in relation to the testing element.

"We need to ensure that all visiting players and officials that come to Coleraine's ground - and all grounds - are safe. We have looked into it and we believe it is very possible to do."

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