Liam Beckett is deservedly enjoying a media career as local football’s funny man. He’s entertained us with his wit and repartee for a good few years now and delivered a wonderfully witty eulogy, in the way only he can, at Harry Gregg’s funeral back in January.
There was no better man.
But he’s got it wrong with his comments in Gareth Fullerton’s piece on Belfast Live on Wednesday evening’s scheduled Co Antrim Shield final.
Beckett’s comments belong in the past and his analogy comparing Irish League footballers to someone working on a building site eight hours a day, five days a week, simply don’t jive.
If we want to make our game better we must emerge from the past.
It’s accepted amongst the game’s highest-paid professionals in Europe that playing 2 matches in less than four days (and not as Liam incorrectly put it; ‘playing 2 games in a week’) is conducive neither to good player-conditioning, nor freshness.
Modern sports science at the top level also leads us to assume that players with the right levels of rest perform better and therefore the spectacle for fans should be enhanced.
If this is good for the higher levels of the game, why not the Irish League?
Time we started helping our players and teams, rather than burdening them with unreasonable schedules.
It was Glentoran manager, Mick McDermott’s comments which set Liam off. McDermott voiced concerns over player welfare due to less recovery time for both teams between Wednesday and their Premiership games three days later.
It’s a totally fair and valid concern, but I would’ve appreciated Mick’s comments infinitely more had he followed up by saying, “Our game at Crusaders and Larne’s at home to Glenavon this weekend, should have been scheduled for Sunday,” instead of admitting Glentoran had considered withdrawal from the Shield final. That simply made it sound like Glentoran were throwing the toys out from the pram.
And this is also where NIFL needs to emerge from the dark ages to keep with the progression local fans now see amongst member clubs.
As NIFL rules stand, a Saturday League game can be switched to Sunday only if both participating clubs agree. It’s high time this decision was taken away from clubs and the league set the schedule in the interests of fairness and player welfare.
It’s 2020! Northern Ireland is the only nation in the British Isles that continues to consider football over a six-day calendar.
And remember the football landscape has changed considerably since some of the old rules and customs were trendy. With the riches now on offer for qualifying for Europe, no right-thinking Irish League club will ever prioritize the Co Antrim Shield decider over three league points.
Of course the other issue surrounding the final is the decision to play on an artificial surface. A senior final on an artificial surface? Where else would this happen (apart from MLS)? It really says something about the Co Antrim’s regard for its only senior competition.
The game is meant to be played on grass. It’s bad enough that some senior clubs regularly play on artificial turf, but for a final?
Which conveniently brings me to the tweet many of us read from Larne’s Kenny Bruce at the weekend, where he lambasted the Coleraine groundsman for the state of the Showgrounds pitch.
Kenny to his credit, has added much to the local game and may well have been right regards his judgement of the playing surface, but coming from someone who’s team plays on a surface much less authentic, his tweet is barely appropriate.