BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THE Ulster Senior League secretary, Mark Duffy, has written to the Football Association of Ireland to request a one-week dispensation to the start of a ‘summer season’ in 2014 in advance of the League’s AGM next month.
While a vote will be taken at the AGM, to be held in the Mount Errigal Hotel on January 6th, on whether or not to return to winter football, League officials have taken some measures to ensure they are ready to roll in the event that clubs vote for the summer season with an earlier start.
At an EGM of the League’s clubs two weeks ago, the executive committee deferred a motion they had tabled, calling for the return of an August-May season. As the motion was not withdrawn, but rather deferred, it will go before the club again for them to cast the die.
With Cockhill Celtic and Drumkeen United floating the idea of an earlier start date, in February, at the EGM, League officials have been exploring this possibility.
The League has run into difficulty with the cross-over of its players to the local junior leagues after a season in which 111 players made the cross-over and it is thought that a February-September season would relieve them of this burden. It is claimed that the earlier dates will alleviate this issue as the new format will force the players who transferred to junior football into a dilemma: Switch back to the USL in January for a full season; or wait until June (the next available window) and effectively miss the first half of the campaign.
At a meeting of the League’s seven-man Executive Committee on Monday night it was agreed to pencil in Sunday, February 23rd as a provisional start date, but this is dependent on clubs voting for the earlier beginning.
League officials have also sought a dispensation from the FAI, whose rules state that a ‘summer season’ begins on March 1. It is likely that a round of the Knockalla Caravans Cup would be the first game for USL clubs in the new season.
Four clubs – Fanad United, Bonagee United, Kildrum Tigers and Letterkenny Rovers – spoke strongly in favour of the winter season but, with Letterkenny delegate Eric White indicating that his club would be in favour of the early start as advocates of summer football over previous seasons, it is conceivable that only three of the nine clubs could come down on the side of the winter season.
Finn Harps, Derry City, Cockhill Celtic, Drumkeen United and Swilly Rovers voiced strong opinions on the summer campaign and their stance will remain unchanged, with the latter pair, the senior representatives, suggesting that they could withdraw were the calendar to be altered.
The majority of the Executive Committee are in favour of winter football, but it would take a two thirds majority for the season to be altered.
Be it from an anticipated motion from one of the clubs (Fanad United vowed in 2007 to table a motion to revert to winter football at ever subsequent AGM and have been true to their word since) or from the Executive’s deferred motion, clubs will have to ballot next month. “Either way there will have to be a vote,” confirmed a USL Spokesman.