A mini-tournament involving last season’s top four clubs is being considered to help prepare them for European competition but it looks increasingly unlikely that the League of Ireland proper will return before September at the earliest.
As the FAI continues to explore a range of options for the resumption of football, pending government and HSE advice, it now appears that at least half of the Premier Division clubs have serious reservations about an earlier return behind closed doors, both on health and financial grounds.
However, a behind closed doors tournament for Ireland’s European qualifiers for 2020/21 – Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City – is definitely on the table and, in accordance with the government’s current roadmap for reopening society, could take place from June 29th.
Such a tournament, if it did go ahead, would also serve as a ‘pilot’ to test health and safety measures to combat Covid-19, as well as the potential for streaming of League of Ireland football when it does return.
On Wednesday, FAI Interim Deputy CEO Niall Quinn had flagged such an initiative, saying:
If football kicks off back in Europe and we are allowed, yet the clubs won't play, then we will have to look at those four clubs and see what we can do for them to allow them to be prepared for any European football that might take place - we are led to believe - in August, September or October.
Discussions have also taken place about the potential for all League of Ireland games to be played either in one venue – with the Aviva Stadium cited as a possibility – or in three or four regional hubs, with fixtures staggered throughout the week.
However, it’s understood that clubs are still awaiting details from the FAI on how much funding will be available to compensate for the revenue shortfall which would arise from playing games behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, the FAI has made a submission to Sport Ireland seeking clarity on the conditions which would permit the resumption of amateur adult and underage football.
And they are advising all affiliates “to postpone any decisions on a return to training or football” until after the FAI concludes these talks with Sport Ireland and HSE officials.
Niall Quinn said: “We have submitted a series of questions to Sport Ireland seeking clarity on the five phases of easing the COVID-19 restrictions, as outlined in the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.
Our Medical Director Dr. Alan Byrne is liaising with the HSE and the Department of Sport on the conditions that will facilitate a safe return for our players, coaches, volunteers and referees at the earliest opportunity.
“As soon as we have that detailed information, we will issue guidelines for our leagues and clubs on a return to training and action. We thank them for their patience and understanding as we gather all information before making the best decision for all concerned.
“Football will be back when the time is right. In the meantime, we thank all our members for obeying the lockdown and urge them to continue to follow HSE guidelines.”