BBallinamallard United will begin their 2020/21 Championship campaign next Saturday, November 28, at home to Loughgall after clubs voted in favour of this date at Tuesday night’s meeting of the NIFL Championship Management Committee.

The vote was understood to have been tight, coming out 7-5 in favour of starting next Saturday, although that is providing that current Covid-19 restrictions - that are due to end on November 27 - are lifted.

With the Championship currently having a non-elite status, clubs are currently restricted in the training they can do with numbers limited and no ball work permitted and it means that they will go straight into league action one day after the restrictions are lifted.

Veteran striker Ryan Campbell though says that they just want to get stuck into the games.

“Most of the squad had 14 to 16 weeks training and we had friendlies before we were locked down again but there is only so many friendlies you can play, you want to get back to competitive games and everybody is going to be in the same boat.

“Look, the first few games will be all about getting up to match fitness but it won’t take it too long and the boys just want to be playing now, they are sick of pre-season,” he said.

And Ballinamallard chairman, Tom Elliott, agreed with Campbell.

“The players are keen and the Championship managers have been in discussion themselves and that is where we have taken the lead from. We needed to be sure that they were keen to get back and they are.

“It is an issue that for a number of weeks they won’t have had that competitive nature in their training but every team is going to be in the same position, or should be, and they just want to get on with it and get back to playing competitive games.

“The players and management have been biting at the bit for some time now but they have had to bide their time in the hope that they would soon get started in a competitive competition,” said Elliott.

Mallards manager Harry McConkey accepts it is not ideal preparation for the start of the league but he feels that it is vital that they are able to provide some certainty for the players.

“There is no question about it, going on the 28th in the present circumstances that we find ourselves as a non-elite club is going to be a great challenge, but it is going to be the same for all the other clubs.

“I just think that we would simply love the opportunity to get started and get the players an end-line at last as there has been so much uncertainty since June. We just want some level of certainty for the players,” he said.

The issue of being non-elite though is one that the Championship clubs feel needs to be addressed as another lockdown would see their season ground to a halt.

Indeed, Elliott stresses that the Championship clubs should be designated as elite, just like the Premiership and he says it was raised again at Tuesday night’s meetings.

“That is an issue and I know the Championship clubs raised it with the Chairman of the NIFL Board, Gerard Lawlor at one of their previous meetings about six weeks ago and he took it to the IFA who still held their line that it wasn’t elite.

“The Championship clubs last night were keen to revisit that and have asked that the NIFL Board take that up with the IFA. What I think the Championship clubs are keen to do as well would be to meet the IFA directly and present the case themselves so I think you could see moves around that in the not too distant future. I have had correspondence directly with the IFA about this but I am only one voice, it would be better if there was a group of Championship clubs and they were all singing from the one hymn sheet.

“Everything points to us being recognised as elite. I have an email from the IFA on October 1 saying that we play in the professional league, the Championship is a professional league. Sport NI guidance that came out in October classified any professional league as elite so by all purposes we should be elite. Everything that is there fits into it, we have players who have professional contracts, everything fits into the Sport NI and indeed the IFA categories,” he argued.