The Ulster Senior League will not revert to a winter season following a narrow majority at Monday night’s AGM to retain summer football - although there will be an earlier start for the 2014 campaign.
The retention of the summer season brought with it typical debate but the motion from Fanad United and the Ulster Senior League executive was defeated by eight votes to six - meaning there were two abstentions.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” said Fanad United delegate Patrick Sweeney prior to the vote. “The senior league is playing second fiddle to the junior league, with a bundle of transfers going out.”
Dessie Kelly, the registrar of the league, blamed the players who decided to leave the league by saying they have “no loyalty.”
After the motion was defeated, Drumkeen United’s motion to amend the start of the season was discussed.
“We prefer summer football,” said delegate Tom Bonner. “It is more attractive. There’s better pitches and better crowds. We’re proposing an earlier Ulster Senior League kick-off as it’ll be wrapped up by the time the junior league starts.”
Mark Duffy, the outgoing secretary, explained that summer seasons are supposed to start from March 1. However, the league had received dispensation from the FAI to begin two weeks earlier, February 16.
“This will still cause a problem,” continued Sweeney from Fanad. “If a player decides to go that way then I say farewell to them.
“Let’s be honest, if they are playing for a Donegal League team who are in contention to win their respective division, they won’t come back. They’ll only transfer back from the Donegal League if there’s nothing there for them.”
Mickey Rodgers from Drumkeen United made reference to a comment made by Gavin Cullen, who had been Cockhill Celtic’s club delegate at an EGM last month.
“Gavin Cullen said that any player worth his salt would want to play in the Ulster Senior League,” Rodgers said. “It’s the players who need to change their attitudes. Maybe it’s a little easier for Cockhill to hold onto players as they’re still in the FAI Intermediate Cup.
“We’ve lost two players to the junior league and some of these clubs have bigger budgets than Ollie Horgan has at Finn Harps. The reason clubs are leaving is because there’s no relegation.”
Relegation could only be part of the Ulster Senior League if an agreement was reached with the Donegal League.
Kelly claimed that a lot of the problems between the Ulster Senior League and the Donegal League are deep-rooted since the formation of the intermediate bracket in 1986.
“There’s a lot of agro and ‘86 still rankles in the memory,” he said. “It was the manner of the formation as the best players, the best clubs and the best referees all left. Bridges were broken down.”
Jason Gibson from Swilly Rovers said the reason a number of clubs have dropped out of the Ulster Senior League is not solely because of the summer season.
“We’ve lost in the region of 20 clubs since the formation of the league in 1986,” he said. “But a good three-quarters of them left when it was the winter season.”
Herbie Barr, administrator of the Ulster FA, encouraged all the local leagues to put their heads together.
“We should set-up workshops and seminars between the Ulster Senior League, the Donegal League and the Inishowen League,” he said. “We could work on the good points. It might take a few years but it would be a benefit.”
Drumkeen’s motion to start the season earlier was passed by 13 votes to two. The intermediate season will being on February 23, most likely with cup fixtures.