If, like me, you are an Englishman who is relatively new to or indeed completely new to Northern Irish football, then you will know (or will see) that finding scores, goals, highlights and such online, can be somewhat of a challenge. Only on the obscurest of internet pages and deepest of blogs will you find what you are looking for, but times are steadily changing.
At the end of this month Cliftonville FC will host current third-placed outfit Glenavon, and for the fourth time this season a Northern Irish Football League (NIFL) game will be broadcast on Sky Sports. The lights, camera and action that come with the broadcasting giants must be something to behold for the players, fans and staff of teams with the statures of Cliftonville and Glenavon. Whilst they are respected teams in their domestic leagues, they remain largely unheard of by the footballing world – known only to experienced Football Manager Players.
The coverage that Sky provide is a fantastic platform to promote our league, our clubs and our players to a wider audience of football fans across the UK and around the world – NIFL managing director Andrew Johnston
The NIFL or Danske Bank League was first aired on Sky Sports in February last year in a deal which sees 6 NIFL games broadcast each season, including the Northern Ireland League Cup Final. This brand new Sky deal to air Northern Irish football can largely be put down to the success of their respective National Team at Euro 2016. Michael O’Neill guided his Northern Ireland team to their first European Championship after a memorable night with Greece at Windsor Park back in October 2015. Despite coming up short to Wales in the knockout stages, fans of Northern Ireland have a 2-0 victory over Ukraine to reminisce about, and a narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of Germany to mull over.
So we enter a new age for Northern Irish football. Success on the big stage has had a trickle-down effect in terms of interest and publicity, which to chairmen of clubs like Cliftonville and Glenavon, means business. Russia will not have the pleasure of hosting Northern Ireland at this summer’s World Cup, but with Sky knocking on the domestic door, a wealth of fresh young talent emerging and an ever-present fan base, Northern Ireland is only beginning to mark its stamp on the football world.