Northern Ireland Football League CEO Gerard Lawlor believes Irish League clubs are not getting the respect they deserve and has vowed to fight for full recognition.

Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) chief executive Gerard Lawlor considers Irish League clubs to be “the forgotten children of the Northern Ireland football family”.

and the former chairman of Cliftonville says he will take charge of all 42 NIFL clubs, looking forward to his first full season in his new role.

Lawlor took over as CEO nine months ago and, acknowledging his mistakes, says he is “pleased with the progress made to date.”

His participation in the game has taken him from the Cliftonville fan bus to the Executive Board of the Irish Football Association and his current role at the head of the NIFL.

Outside of football, the Carrick Hill man started out as a chef in the hospitality industry before moving into a senior position at Belfast’s Grand Opera House, where he learned the value of marketing.

Now, nine months into his new job, Lawlor is still wondering if this job wasn’t more than he expected.

“I still think about it in my head,” reflects the head of the NIFL.

“I have not yet fully grasped what this work entails, but I will say that I am pleased with the progress so far.

“I underestimated the time and commitment that this job requires. I used to be associated with Cliftonville and the Irish Football Federation and spent a lot of time outside of work in meetings.

“I thought that if I got a job at the NIFL, it would give me more time with my family, but it didn’t always work out that way.

“It’s a 12 hour job, seven days a week because the challenges in football are so varied, but I really enjoy it.

“One thing I am very grateful for is the support I received from all the clubs that saw me as a Cliftonville man before I started with the NIFL.

“Clubs have bought into what the NIFL is trying to do because they know that we care about their development, about each of them.

“I feel like our clubs are the forgotten children of the Northern Ireland football family and I will always fight against that, I will fight to ensure that our clubs get the recognition and respect they deserve.

“I will not shirk my responsibilities or shy away from controversy, the Irish Football Association is our governing body but I don’t feel we have been given our rightful place in football here in Northern Ireland.

“NIFL and IFA work well together, there are very capable people in the association, and I have a good working relationship with the President (Conrad Kirkwood) and CEO (Patrick Nelson).

“However, I still feel like the NIFL clubs are not being given their place or the respect they deserve for the contribution they make to football here.”

There has long been a perception that the Irish Football Association doesn’t care as much about senior football as they do about other areas of play in the province and things came to a head last year.

Lawlor was on his way to clash with the aforementioned Kirkwood. and Nelson after he took the top job in the NIFL.

He was asked to resign from the IFA Executive Board, with IFA leaders citing conflicts of interest due to his involvement with the NIFL.

Lawlor himself initially wanted to remain on the board to support senior club representation, but the IFA insisted that the dual roles were incompatible and urged him to resign.

His position was subsequently filled by a junior representative and close associate of Michael Mezza of Kirkwood.

Lawlor admits it’s been a tough time for him, but insists he’s moved on and is looking at the game more broadly.

“I don’t think the IFA has shown me respect, but I don’t hold a grudge,” Lawlor tells Sunday Life Sport.

“Yes, at the time it was painful, we all have egos to some extent, but now it’s in the past, we learn lessons and move on.

“I had a terrible experience in football and some wonderful experiences. I’ve made mistakes, but a mistake is only a mistake if you haven’t learned from it.

“When I was at Cliftonville, I had some high-profile problems off the field, and even now in the NIFL, I had some problems with the clubs, and you always learn in life.

“I had the point of view of the chairman of the club when I was in Cliftonville, and it helps me in the office, because now I can see the situation from both sides.

“My wife Roizen and my son Gerard are currently working in Solitude so I get locked at home if the NIFL does something they don’t agree with!

“But if I am grateful to the clubs for their support in my new role, that is nothing compared to my gratitude to Roizen for the support she has given me throughout my time in football.”