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Ulster Senior League EGM to debate winter return again

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BY CHRIS MCNULTY 

THE eight clubs and the executive of the Ulster Senior League will meet tonight for an Emergency General Meeting that will thrash out the possibility of a move back to a winter season for the League.

A change in season, back to an August-May calendar, is looking increasingly likely, but Tuesday night’s EGM in the Mount Errigal Hotel, Letterkenny, will tease out the finer points of the debate.

It is a subject matter that has been thorny since that night in 2007 when then League Chairman Eamon McConigley used his casting vote to change the landscape and take the USL into a summer season.

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In 2014, the USL played an eighth summer season, but with just eight competing teams the League has appeared to be on life support given that the likes of Kildrum Tigers, Killea FC, Convoy Arsenal and Buncrana Hearts have returned to junior soccer in recent times.

“I spoke about this at the recent presentation night: We need the support of our teams and we need to make sure that the Ulster Senior League survives,” said veteran local soccer official and USL Registrar Dessie Kelly.

“The Executive would now be quite anxious that we return to playing winter football. I would hope that we will get the support of our teams.

“It is a sad day when only two clubs – Letterkenny Rovers and Cockhill Celtic – have entered the FAI Intermediate Cup from Donegal. Teams are struggling for numbers and when you have 125 players leaving your League’s books to go back to junior football then it is time to look at yourself.

“The big reason that I feel we should move back is that we have lost a lot of teams and we lose a lot of players, albeit temporarily, and it makes it very hard for teams.”

In January of this year, the Executive tabled a similar motion that was only narrowly defeated, 7-6, when it went to a vote. There were three abstentions on the night, including from Kildrum Tigers who subsequently withdrew from the League.

Were the USL to return to winter football, it would draw into question the futures of Derry City and Finn Harps, but Kelly says that the soundings have been positive from most teams.

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“At this stage, I think most teams just want to safeguard the League,” he said.

“I would be hopeful that we could retain our eight teams. There won’t be a big influx of teams if we do go back to winter football, not initially anyway, but it will give us hope for the future as our season will be in line with the junior teams again.”

The likely scenario seems to be, although the relevant parties, the club delegates and the executive, will ultimately have to vote on it, that the USL will play a truncated January-May season with an August 2015 start looking a very real possibility for the local intermediate grade.

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