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  Monday, 3 February, 2003, 15:19 GMT
Busy times ahead in March
Lyle Jackson on the Republic of Ireland's new manager

If you're one of those puzzle buffs who thrives on solving baffling brainteasers, a welcome awaits you at the Irish League's offices in Belfast.

The IFL's administrative staff are getting close to the head-scratching stage as games are called off. The backlog is mounting.

There are postponements in January and February every year, but this season is different.

The league's senior clubs, with questionable wisdom, voted to increase the Premier Division to 16 clubs.

working overtime

As a stepping-stone towards this, there are 12 Premier clubs this season and a one-off format involves the top flight splitting at the end of March.

The top six clubs will then play each once as the title honours and Uefa Cup slots are decided.

The clubs in the lower half also play each other with the one finishing bottom being involved in a play-off with the team fifth in Division One.

So, all the fixtures up to the end of March have to be played - by the end of March. The Irish League will be working overtime trying to make sure that happens.

And March could be a busy month for those teams badly hit by postponements. I find myself asking why the league delegates are attempting a 16-team top division.

Busy times ahead for Irish League clubs
Busy times ahead for Irish League clubs

It has been tried before and was discarded. Of course, clubs want to have a seat at the top table and to get a share in big game gate receipts.

But wise counsel has warned before that Northern Ireland cannot sustain 16 senior clubs.

The Soccer Strategy Report published in October 2001 recommended an Irish League structure of three divisions with 14 clubs in each.

So it is baffling why the Premier Division is going to have 16 for the 2003-04 season.

It is not the best format and it looks certain to be yet another temporary measure.

Worth the hassle? Ask the poor folk at the league offices trying to make sense of it all.

lyle.jackson.01@bbc.co.uk

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