NIFL suggest end of season in sight at last for Irish League clubs
Hopes were high the NIFL Board meeting on Monday would offer a solution but instead confirmation arrived before 10pm of another waiting game until Tuesday morning for “a full statement”.
It is understood one issue close to confirmation on Monday - although still unofficial - was promotion for Portadown and Annagh United out of, respectively, the Bluefin Sport-sponsored Championship and Premier Intermediate League.
That would also feature automatic relegation for Institute from the Premiership and the Championship’s PSNI - as the sides bottom of the two divisions following the March football fixture freeze. However, sources suggested both Institute and PSNI had yet to receive any confirmation of status.
If, as expected, NIFL opt to introduce a mathematical model to settle the Premiership standings it would confirm Linfield and Coleraine as the top two sides in the league, plus two of the three European qualifying names from Northern Ireland.
However, with Crusaders third at the end of the March programme on goal difference alone over Cliftonville, the opportunity for that final European spot - based on Coleraine winning the Irish Cup - could be affected by different algorithms implemented.
Any official ruling by the NIFL Board will go to the Irish FA for a green light before the August 3 deadline set by UEFA for the domestic game’s three European qualifying names.
It is understood the Irish Cup semi-final and final ties can still take place over late July and early August - with Cliftonville, Glentoran, Ballymena United and Coleraine in contention for the season’s closing trophy. Windsor Park is considered an option to host all three games ahead of August 3.
Given the weeks of meetings between NIFL, the Irish FA and clubs towards an agreement, any final decision announced on Tuesday is expected to spark further debate but the majority of fans will feel a sense of relief at a long-awaited conclusion to the season.
Although relations between certain parties may stand strained as a result of a process to find a solution to the season which has featured heated disagreement in both private and public, many within the game will relish the opportunity to now switch focus to the 2020/21 campaign.
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