Ballinamallard manager Harry McConkey fears the latest start date for the NIFL Championship will be another false dawn unless the Irish Football Association reverses their decision to refuse elite status to teams in the second tier.

Saturday January 2 is the latest provisional date for the start of the Mallard’s season.

The opening game against Annagh United has been pencilled in for Ferney Park, but with fears of further post-Christmas restrictions being implemented, McConkey believes the only way they can plan for a certain start is to be classified as elite.

“Sadly my players and staff are well beyond the point of dates meaning anything to us,” he admitted.

“It is hugely disappointing to see start dates disappear before our eyes, having seen already October and November dates go. Psychologically we are at a point where players are extremely frustrated, which is not surprising when they keep being given a date and then have it taken away at the last moment. This is very damaging to everyone’s psyche at the club, including the committee and our faithful supporters.

“Once this two week period is over, we are still living in hope that we can get back onto the training pitch with the ball and include the full squad in order to prepare for the league on January 2.

“At the moment the players are doing their own individual programmes as there is nothing else we can do under the present restrictions. That is why we are trying to get together with the NIFL reps and chairmen and try to get talks held with the IFA as soon as possible.That has got to be our goal.”

While the designated elite teams in the Premier League have been able to fulfil their fixtures to date, Ballinamallard are still awaiting their first league match despite efforts from club representatives to put their case to the governing body.

“We have our own rep, Jeff Aiken, who is working tirelessly for us with NIFL to express our opinions very firmly,” revealed Harry.

“We are very much together as a club in our demand for elite status.”

In a bid to challenge the IFA decision, the 12 Championship managers came together to release a statement requesting the governing body re-examine their decision.

Harry admits their decision to speak as one was borne out of “sheer frustration” and in the hope that voices from the people closest to the players would have some influence on the decision makers, but to date it appears to have had little impact.

“Managers see and feel the toll this is taking on their players.” he said.

“We felt that by coming together as a group with one voice, we may be able to highlight better the true depth of the damage being caused to our clubs and communities.

“Managers who carry the load on a weekly basis of planning, motivating and monitoring have seen the mood of players and staff changing from great optimism as they believed we were finally getting to play, only for it to be taken away from them time and time again because we were categorised as not being worthy of elite status by our governing body.”

Despite the IFA showing no outwards signs of a change of heart, Harry is determined to continue the fight.

“Like in everything, you shouldn’t give up easily when you feel there has been a huge injustice,” he said.

“I do believe the granting of Elite status should have been given more thought at the outset.

“The NIFL Championship managers in these exceptional times surely deserve to be listened to directly and at the moment that is all they are asking. By not talking to people on the ground and listening to their feedback and their problems, the likes of which have never been experienced before in sport, how do you make any informed decision?

“We are trying to keep the NIFL Championship alive not just for our players health, but for the health and wellbeing of our clubs committee staff players, supporters and loyal sponsors.

“The NIFL Championship has been deemed a professional league by the IFA. It helps form a valuable pathway to the Premier League for players and coaches.

“Any further delays in starting dates or any future potential circuit breakers could see our season collapse.

“What we need now are talks to take place immediately to help find a solution. The question managers need to ask those who govern our game is how do we prepare for a Saturday January 2 kick off or even get excited by a big draw in the Irish Cup on Saturday January 9 if we cannot train as a full squad and have a ball at our feet?

“Granting of elite status to the Championship clubs would certainly help both those challenges.”