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Ulster Senior League to play summer football – with earlier start

Ulster Senior League Executive members Johnny McCafferty, Dessie Kelly and Jim McConnell

Ulster Senior League Executive members Johnny McCafferty, Dessie Kelly and Jim McConnell

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

SUMMER football has been retained by the Ulster Senior League for an eighth season after a motion by Fanad United for the return of winter football was defeated at Monday night’s AGM at the Mount Errigal Hotel.

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However, the 2014 season will be run-off in a slightly different manner, with the coming campaign kicking off a month earlier. The new USL season will now begin on Sunday February 23rd, most likely starting with a round of Cup games.

This followed a successful motion brought to the meeting by Drumkeen United, who argued that the earlier start would alleviate the problem of the drain of players out of the USL to the local junior Leagues. During the latter months of the 2013 USL season, 111 players left the League to transfer to junior clubs.

Patrick Sweeney, a Fanad United delegate, also referenced this issue in proposing the return of winter football.

“It is a sad state of affairs when we are playing second fiddle to the junior leagues,” he said.

The amount of transfers that we had in the League last season – those players won’t come back if their clubs are in contention for other Leagues.”

A similar motion for a winter season was tabled by the League’s Executive, on foot of a recent EGM, at which they deferred a vote on the debate until Monday’s AGM.

The motion, seconded by Gerard McGuinness of Bonagee United, was only defeated by seven votes to six, with three abstentions, but a Drumkeen United motion calling for the 2014 season to begin in February was met with almost universal approval, however, carried with 13 votes for and just two against.

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It appears, however, as if the announced count on the Fanad motion was a little askew, as it seems as if there were eight votes against it, rather than seven. Vice-Chairman Jim McConnell and Kildrum Tigers – who are to hold a club meeting tonight (Thursday) at which their future participation in the USL was up for discussion following a serious haemorrhage of players – abstained.

League Registrar Dessie Kelly blasted the players.

“There are no loyalty in players now,” he said.

“Players want to service two clubs and play the whole year round. That isn’t on.”
His comments were echoed by the Drumkeen United manager, Mickey Rodgers, who said:

“Players need to change their attitudes. I lost two players to junior teams, but these days some junior clubs seem to have bigger budgets than Ollie Horgan has at Finn Harps.”
Kelly said that there was a perception locally the Ulster Senior League was ‘a semi-professional League’.

He said: “Some clubs are paying out a few bob to players and a few bob to managers – and my own club wouldn’t be exempt from that.”

The difficulty in attracting new teams was discussed with the Provincial Administrator Herbie Barr telling the meeting that there needed to be greater dialogue between all of the local soccer organisations.

However, Kelly pointed out: “There has been a lot of aggro between the junior and intermediate Leagues since the Ulster Senior League was formed in 1986. The best players, the best teams, the best referees and the best pitches all left. It will be hard to bridge the gap.”

Drumkeen proposed an earlier start to the season. Tom Bonner said this was partly an attempt to solve the issue of having players leave the USL.

He added: “We prefer to play in the summer time. I cannot understand why someone would want to play on a day like yesterday (Sunday). Summer football is much more attractive with better pitches, better crowds and better football.”

His proposal was seconded by Cockhill Celtic’s Pat McLaughlin and was passed by thirteen votes with two against.

Patrick Sweeney warned: “This won’t solve the transfer issue. The players can’t come back until June – unless they come before the end of January – but by coming in June they’d be no good to our clubs.”

Under FAI rule the summer season begins in March, but the USL has been granted a dispensation by Abbotstown chiefs to begin any time from February 16th, with the USL expected to commence against on February 23rd.

Jason Gibson said that everyone had been left shaken but that things could have been much worse.

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