'We can't simply shut down football' - McDermott stresses need for Irish League restart

Glentoran manager Mick McDermott
Mick McDermott led Glentoran to victory over Ballymena United in July's Irish Cup final

Glentoran manager Mick McDermott says "we can't simply shut down football" while stressing the need to start the new Irish League season.

The 2020-21 campaign is scheduled to begin on 17 October seven months after football in Northern Ireland was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

McDermott says a return to competitive action will give clubs a clearer idea of the challenges the local game faces.

"I do believe that we need to start, that's first and foremost," he said.

McDermott added: "As a league, we need to start, I've stated that clearly. I know there are concerns that we can't start before this, or we can't start before that, and we're looking for guarantees, like we can't start before there are 50% fans.

"But nobody knows when that will be, so I believe it is unrealistic to say that we can only start when X happens because we never know when X will happen.

"So, I think it's important to start and work on the issues when we have started. So, let's play some games. There is a chance of financial constraints on some clubs, including our own, but I think we need to find solutions."

McDermott, who led Glentoran to Irish Cup success in July, said clubs must get "creative" when it comes to confronting the numerous financial challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, including stadiums that are either entirely or partially empty.

When Glentoran beat Ballymena United in the Irish Cup final, 500 fans were allowed inside Windsor Park.

However, fresh doubts over supporters attending upcoming Irish Premiership matches emerged after plans for the return of fans to English sporting venues on 1 October were paused following a rise in coronavirus cases.

"Are the solutions in finding funding through the Irish Football Association or through the government, or through Fifa or Uefa?," added McDermott, who is preparing his side for an opening-day trip to Cliftonville on 17 October.

"I don't know, but we need to turn over every stone to help the clubs."

'Limiting matches to three venues an option'

McDermott, who was appointed Glentoran boss in March 2019, believes restricting this season's Irish Premiership games to three stadiums may be a solution to allowing spectators to attend matches.

The three biggest football stadiums in the Northern Irish top-flight are Windsor Park (Linfield), the Oval (Glentoran) and the Ballymena Showgrounds (Ballymena United).

"In terms of stadia, as long as we can get some fans in - what does that look like?

"I believe the Executive said it is up to the venue operator, so let's see what that looks like.

"We also need to look at options to get fans at home to see those games. Will there be streaming options, or streaming packages. How do we do that?

Creativity called for

"It's going to force the clubs, the NIFL body and the Irish Football Association to be creative, and if we're creative enough, I believe we can come out the other side on a sound financial footing with football back to where it should be.

"Do we have to look at options like playing the games at a limited number of venues?

"Do we play all the games in three venues? We could play a game at three venues on Friday and the same on Saturday, and there's your six games.

"We have to look at all the options. They may be painful, they may be uncomfortable, but that's the reality right now.

"I think the pressure of this situation will force us to be creative, and I hope that when we are creative, we're not just looking after ourselves and we're looking at the better and the greater good of football in Northern Ireland."

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