Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry expects this season’s BetMcLean League Cup to be shelved by the Northern Ireland Football League.
he Bannsiders lifted the trophy in February for the second time in the club’s history when they conquered Crusaders 2-1 at Windsor Park.
But the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the Danske Bank Premiership campaign from being completed and it has continued to cause disruption to the 2020-2021 season.
While the Premiership kicked off in mid-October, the League Cup never got up and running with the Northern Ireland Football League prepared to review the situation in early 2021.
Clubs are facing a heavy fixture schedule, with further postponements a possibility, and the Irish Cup ‘Round of 32’ will not start as scheduled next month as it wasn’t awarded elite status by the NI Executive and Sport NI.
Unlike the Irish Cup, the League Cup doesn’t offer a Europa League place and McKendry doesn’t believe the knockout tournament can survive the ongoing health crisis.
“I would like to have seen it played but it doesn’t hold a European place and we must be responsible to the clubs who aspire to be in Europe and represent the Irish League in Europe,” said the Bannsiders chief.
“It’s a decision which NIFL must take but my feeling is that this year it will probably have to be shelved.
“We can do our best to make it happen but I’m not sure we have room in our calendar to accommodate it.
“That’s my gut feeling. The NIFL Board will discuss it but as a club chairman I’m asking, ‘Do we need a League Cup this year?’
“Coleraine have seven games in 29 days in January.
“Do we need further dates in our diary with further postponements possible? Is it practical to play more games?”
McKendry added: “At this stage, I don’t believe we can play it. It is a fantastic competition but the Irish Cup holds a European place and the difficulty is non-elite clubs cannot play at the moment.
“We must respect the government’s position on elite sport and plan outside that.
“This year the Irish FA were able to get the tournament (Irish Cup) finished in the summer so we will see what is possible.”
Elite sport is allowed to resume on Saturday but without spectators and fixtures have needed to be pushed back after the Boxing Day and December 29 clashes were postponed.
There’s also concern over the prospect of fresh Covid-19 outbreaks at a time when the infection rate remains high.
McKendry added: “We need the vaccine to work and give society confidence but it won’t change the picture until later in the year.
“NIFL have a curtailment policy in place to avoid the confusion of last year and at least that system is in place.
“I’m not sure we can make it to 38 league games this season, however. There are still unknowns from lockdowns to harsh weather conditions.
“Coleraine’s pitch, because of its age, doesn’t withstand the weather the best and games have been postponed in the past.
“We’ve got to respect the restrictions, while raising mental health awareness.
“A number of the players are part-time, have jobs and will have Saturday-Tuesday fixtures which can be difficult.”
In this week’s Belfast Telegraph, Glentoran manager Mick McDermott said the pandemic offered the Irish League an opportunity to embrace change and McKendry says there’s merit in that argument.
“I read Mick’s interview and I would agree with a lot of what he said,” he added. “Maybe it is time for change and fresh ideas.
“Sometimes you can be too close to something and not realise what needs changing.
“No one likes change but it can happen for a reason and the league could be commercially better.
“Michael O’Neill was a big supporter of summer football and I agree with him.
“It has been a challenging year and we need to find a way to turn this crisis into an opportunity.
“At Coleraine, we are always open to constructive ideas.”
Warrenpoint Town, meanwhile, have signed experienced former Shelbourne and Bohemians defender Daniel Byrne.