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'I think we should consider regionalising the league into three zones - north, middle and south'


Derry City manager Declan Devine. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Derry City manager Declan Devine. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Derry City manager Declan Devine. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

DERRY CITY manager Declan Devine has outlined the 'unique position' the Candystripes find themselves in during the current Coronavirus crisis.

Earlier this week, the Brandywell club released a statement declaring it was impressed with Kieran Lucid’s proposals for an All-island League, and urged clubs north and south of the border to 'join in supporting the possibilities that an All-island League would release'.

The current pandemic has frozen football and with no immediate restart in sight on the island, solutions are being sought to bring the game back safely, bearing in mind travel restrictions and player/supporter health issues.

Yet 46-year-old former Ipswich Town goalkeeper Devine has a 360 degree perspective on the subject, having played and coached in both jurisdictions, Irish League and League of Ireland.

After joining Ipswich as a 16-year-old, Devine returned to Northern Ireland to play for Omagh Town and Glentoran, before returning to his native Derry to become first-team coach in 2003.

He followed Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny to Dunfermline as part of his backroom staff before taking on the managerial reins up at the Brandywell, where he is enjoying his second stint as boss.

Derry play in the League of Ireland but come under the legal jurisdiction of Northern Ireland and so are placed under the same restrictions by the Stormont Executive as Irish League clubs.

"We are in a unique position here at the Brandywell," Devine said.

"Because we have a league that could potentially restart on July 20, but we would not be able to fulfil our home fixtures because of the directives from the Executive.

"It’s an unusual situation but the Board are working on every avenue so we can get back to playing at the Brandywell, but at this moment in time nobody knows when that will happen. It’s a tricky one.

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"All clubs must survive – north, south, amateur, professional, and we have to work together to ensure that happens. Our football must exist. The Irish League was coming to an end, so the choice is either to somehow finish the season or cancel it.

"Our league is in no hurry, we aren’t due to start our next season until February 21 of next year, so we have time to work at it."

Devine has already spoken about the possibility of regionalising the League of Ireland when it resumes, and has now expanded to suggest UEFA might consider regionalising their club competitions for the smaller leagues to solve thorny problems.

"If we got the go ahead in, say August or September, I think we should consider regionalising the league into three zones, north, middle and south.

"Ourselves, Dundalk, Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers go into the north zone, the Dublin clubs go into the middle zone and the Munster clubs go into the south zone.

"Travel and accommodation wouldn’t be as much of a problem, and everyone would have a chance to finish the season. European money is crucial, we know that, to teams in both jurisdictions, and we have two associations on the island.

"Could we not suggest that we regionalise playing in Europe too, so that clubs under IFA jurisdiction play clubs under FAI jurisdiction, maybe include clubs in Scotland and Wales?

"These are strange times, this coronavirus is something none of us have experienced before and hopefully never will again, so we need suggestions and solutions.

"I’m sure Linfield, or Coleraine, or Crusaders would rather play Bohs in Europe than having to travel to Latvia or Azerbaijan, why not suggest it to UEFA? Can it be done? Should we try it?

"We have to find a way to do it, because that European money is key to all of us. There would be no fear of crowd trouble because of restrictions, and that would be another plus.

"I hope UEFA tell us they are going to finish the Champions and Europa Leagues, possibly in August-September, then we would be happy to play through the winter months, even if it was a shorter season, just because of the current circumstances.

"We could easily run a short season over three months, get a break and start next season in February, we would have plenty of time."

A football man to the bone, Devine reveals the current hiatus is the first he has had in his adult life, he doesn’t like it one bit and cannot wait for the return of the sport he loves.

"We had a mixed start to the league, played four games, lost narrowly to Dundalk, drew with Finn Harps, beat Bohs then lost to Waterford.

"Attendances were great and the place was packed, we were preparing to train when we heard ‘all games are off indefinitely’. We went away that day and didn’t know what to do for a period.

"I have been in football full-time since I was 16 when I went over to Ipswich Town, it has been my sole source of income and I’m missing it badly, to be able to work with the players daily, prepare for games then play them.

"I miss the anticipation, the desire to get three points, the delight when you get three points and the dejection when you don’t. I miss the love of the game."

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