Imaginative approach taken by NEFL to deal with unusual situation
Local soccer administrators have had to take an innovative, and some might feel a controversial approach to help them solve a fixture conundrum they find themselves in.
The North East Football League (NEFL) have yet to bring the curtain down on the 2021 season with a number of issues still to be sorted out.
Among the issues is how the Premier/Div 1 relegation/promotion positions will be filled with the second bottom team in the Premier (Bay FC) awaiting the outcome of the final Div 1 clash between Kentstown Rovers and Chord Celtic to decide third spot in Div 1.
To help the NEFL deal with the situation they had successfully applied to the Leinster Football Association to grant them a further seven weeks extension to ghe league (from standard final date of Wednesday 30th November) to compete all outstanding matches by Sunday 16th January.
Now that deadline looms and the NEFL officials have taken the alternative step of allowing the clubs involved to select registered players from the 2022 season - and sign players who did not compete with them during the 2021 campaign.
"A draw would have been enough for Kentstown Rovers while Chord required a win for the right to travel to Bay and a straight knock out play off to secure the last guaranteed position for the 2022 premier division make up, following Termonfeckin as Div 1 champions, and Quay Celtic as runners up already securing the other two positions," a statement from the NEFL outlined.
"Despite the best efforts to play both fixtures in the past two weeks it was not possible to do so due to a multiple Covid-19 outbreak within the Kentstown club. As all NEFL players will become free agents from the close of season on the 16th January it will not be possible to complete the campaign using the present situation as a starting point.
"The Committee discussed how best to deal with the issue that has now arisen, being conscious of applying a fair and balanced opportunity to the three affected teams.
"The following was put forward as a means to solve the impasse while keeping in mind the need to try and closely replicate the situation as it currently stands.
"The season traditionally kicks off with the Shield competitions initially split into groups of three with the highest placed team progressing to the knock-out stages. One of the groups shall contain Bay FC, Kentstown Rovers, and Chord Celtic.
"The first scheduled match shall see Kentstown Rovers hosting Chord on Sunday 13th March with the loser of this match travelling to Bay on Sunday 20th March (*if a draw Kentstown Rovers). The group shall be completed on Sunday 27th March where Bay will host the winner from 13th March (* if a draw Chord Celtic)," the statement added.
"In the event of two teams level on points at that stage, normal rules will apply i.e head to head result in the first instance, and if tied, goal difference and goals scored.
"All three competing teams shall be able to chose participants from registered players for the 2022 season, and may sign players that did not compete with them during the 2021 season, if they so desire."
The league have also expressed the hope Sunday's Div 2 clash between Kells Celtic Youths and Bailieboro will go ahead "without any hitches" and bring the campaign to a conclusion. A win for the Kells side will see them secure the title.
Should they not do so Torro United, who are currently two points ahead, will take the title.
The 2022 season opening fixture proposals for both Shields are as follows -
Kilmessan Shield: comprising Premier, Div 1 and Div 2 teams in groups of mainly three teams and where necessary groups of four
O’Neill Shield comprising Div 3 and 4 teams in groups of mainly three teams and where necessary groups of four
Week ending Sunday 13th March - Opening round group fixtures in both shields - A v B (all groups), plus C v D for four team groups.
Week ending Sunday 20th March - Second round group fixtures in both shields - C v A or B v C depending on whichever is losing team in opening round of fixtures (all groups). If a draw C v A. plus C v A and B v D for four team groups.
Week ending Sunday 27th March - Third round group fixtures in both shields - C v A or B v C depending on whichever was already scheduled in second round of fixtures (all groups). plus B v C and D v A for four team groups.
Week ending Sunday 3rd April - league kick off for all divisions.