SPECTATORS can return to matches from today after the Northern Ireland executive ruling - which took NCU officials by surprise.

The latest easing of restrictions last night said that spectators can attend outdoor sporting venues “where the operator can control access and ensure attendance to social distancing”. In the wide open spaces of a cricket ground, that was all local clubs wanted to hear.

“Normally we would get a bit of a heads-up but this time there was no inkling,” said Alan Waite, chairman of the NCU’s Domestic Directorate, "but it’s clearly good news.

“We are still awaiting to see the exact details but our belief is that as long as we have our contact tracing in place and we can socially distance adequately within the ground, spectators are allowed.

“Here at Waringstown, we are at home on Saturday and Sunday and we can follow the same process as last week, signing everyone in through the gate, and then, rather than have everyone cramped into a 30-yard hospitality area, everyone will be free to move around the ground.

“We suspect there is still no relaxation around dressing rooms so we believe we will still need two designated areas for the players.”

But Waite stressed that the danger of Covid-19 is nowhere over.

“We still can’t lose sight of maintaining the right protocols,” he added. “You saw last night the story coming out of Cork County, it is still fairly fragile and if there is a (Covid-19) issue, clubs have to start participating. So let’s continue to proceed cautiously.”

All eight Premiership clubs play back to back games this weekend in two different competitions. Tomorrow the League Cup continues with all four of last Saturday’s opening day winners – CIYMS, Woodvale, North Down and Instonians - facing the four teams who lost, while on Sunday, it’s the quarter-finals of the T20 with CIYMS starting their defence at newly promoted Woodvale.

Tomorrow’s fixtures (2.00) – League Cup: CIYMS v Lisburn (12.00), Civil Service North v Instonians (11.00), Waringstown v North Down, Woodvale v Carrickfergus.
Trophy: Ballymena v Cregagh, Cliftonville Academy v Muckamore, Derriaghy v Downpatrick (12.00), Saintfield v Armagh, Templepatrick v Donaghcloney Mill (12.00). Sunday: Cliftonville Academy v Saintfield, Cregagh v Templepatrick, Derriaghy v Ballymena, Downpatrick v Armagh.
: Lurgan v Cooke Collegians (1.00), Victoria v Laurelvale (1.00), Ards v Holywood, Bangor v Donaghadee (12.00), Dundrum v BISC, Dunmurry v Drumaness Superkings
Sunday – T20 Cup: Carrickfergus v Lisburn (12.30), North Down v Instonians, Waringstown v Civil Service North, Woodvale v CIYMS