The reaction from Cork City to fresh proposals for the possible resumption of the League of Ireland is that playing behind closed doors is a non-runner, whereas deferring the season to the autumn may yet prove to be the most realistic option.
Emerging from talks between the FAI and the National League executive committee, a number of potential solutions are now being considered in light of the government ban on gatherings in excess of 5,000 people until the end of August.
These range from football behind closed doors resuming on June 19 to, at the other end of the time scale, deferral of all national league activity until September, with a full fixture programme to then run until the end of February 2021.
Other ideas up for consideration include a resumption on June 19 with stadium restrictions in line with HSE guidelines including behind closed doors and reduced capacity at 25% or 50%, with the season to run until the end of December; and a resumption in July or August, based on government advice and HSE guidelines.
In the absence in the domestic game of the TV money and commercial deals that would be required to keep the show on the road, Cork City chairman Declan Carey is entirely dismissive of the idea of playing behind closed doors.
“I don’t think the club would last too long — or any club in the league for that matter,” he said.
On a June 19 restart, but with stadium restrictions and reduced capacity, he said: “We’d have to see what the restrictions are. I would see some grounds having a problem because of the lack of adequate seating but at Turner’s Cross, we could still seat two and half to three thousand which would probably be in line with our average attendance targets.
"Again, we wouldn’t want to be turning fans away either but maybe you could allow some fans to go to games but also combine it with online streaming.”
However, Mr Carey pointed out that maintaining social distancing outside grounds as well as in areas within stadiums such as toilets and food and programme outlets would still present a formidable challenge.
On the face of it, delaying the start of the season only as far as June or July does not seem to Mr Carey like a workable solution either. “’Subject to HSE guidelines’ is a bit too vague for us,” he said.
Assessing the two remaining options — deferral to September with a shortened season running to December, or deferral to September followed by a full fixture programme carrying through to February 2021 — the city chairman suggests the latter may be the more realistic alternative.
“Right now, that probably makes more sense. It would allow us to fulfil a full fixture calendar which would be good, although I’d have concerns about how some of the pitches in the league would hold up.
“It’s definitely a realistic option but, from a financial perspective, our budgets would be impacted. With bad winter weather, you’d imagine crowds would take a hit. It would be a pretty bleak picture for us but every club would be in the same boat.”
City are already working on 12-month financial projections based on all these options and say they will provide that data to the FAI. But there seems to be no escaping the bottom line that a winter season would inevitably mean a summer of discontent for the club.
By availing of emergency government subsidies introduced during the pandemic, City have been able to continue paying players and staff their full wages, reversing an earlier announcement that they would have to impose lay-offs.
But, clearly, a cessation of the league all the way through to September would represent a financial challenge of another magnitude.
“Again, that’s something we’re going to have to discuss with the FAI,” said Mr Carey. “It’s a pretty clinical way to look at things: We plug in the numbers and then make a decision based on that. But ultimately that’s what we have to do.
"We’re in such a precarious position and one false move can cause doom for the club. So we have to be as prepared as we can.”
Meanwhile, St Patrick’s Athletic announced that, faced with a collapse in income caused by the shut-down, the club has, “with considerable regret”, been forced to temporarily lay off its playing and coaching staff.