Dundalk’s veteran goalkeeper Gary Rogers fears Ireland’s European participants will be hampered by the delay in resuming competitive domestic football.
The FAI’s failure so far to convince clubs on the viability of playing behind closed doors has isolated Ireland as the only one of 12 summer leagues in Europe without a definitive restart plan agreed.
As it stands, according to the FAI’s roadmap out of the Covid-19 pandemic, the four European representatives cannot train until June 8, with the remainder permitted from June 29.
Dundalk, Ireland’s Champions League participants, along with Europa League entrants Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City, are due to be involved in a pilot tournament in July, just weeks before they contest the lucrative first rounds of Uefa’s competitions. League fixtures may not resume until mid-August.
Rogers, whose outings during Dundalk’s march to the group stages of the 2016/17 Europa League contributed to his record haul of 55 in Europe, is gravely concerned about preparations for this year’s tilt.
American hedge fund Peak 6 pinpointed the multimillion potential of European prize-money as integral to their 2018 takeover over of the club.
“It is plain to see that we are falling behind other European countries,” admitted reigning goalkeeper of the year Rogers.
“To watch them all being ready to train and play with an agreed plan is worrying for us.
We’ve had a fairly cautious approach in Ireland. It was only last weekend when we heard about the training dates and some information about a tournament.
“It’s all a bit rough, as nothing is finalised. We don’t even have a date for it, which is only a friendly tournament.
“I’d be concerned about our lack of competitiveness going into the Champions League, compared to opposition from leagues that have restarted league fixtures much earlier than us.” Rogers is pleading with the authorities to apply a fairer approach in lifting the lockdown, echoing the view of his manager Vinny Perth, who questioned how his players could team up on the golf course but not the training pitch from last Monday.
The FAI’s medical director, Dr Alan Byrne, has confirmed that testing of the European quartet will commence next week, while Rogers revealed he’s content with the safety-first policy displayed by his club.
“We were preparing to go back training this month, so to read on Friday that it couldn’t happen until June 8 was disappointing,” he said.
“Training alone hasn’t been a problem for myself living out in the country but what about my teammates are in housing estates in Dublin nowhere near a public park? Not that training in a park is ideal anyway.
“Dundalk have been working tirelessly on this even before the lockdown started.
“They’ve given us a manual explaining all the procedures, from arriving to training in our kit, to operating one-way systems at the training ground and a protocol for medical personnel testing us. All the timings for initially training in smaller groups are laid out.
“It was great to hear how committed the FAI are to testing players before resuming. That provides a level of confidence to us.
“We’re ready to train and hoping that those in charge see fit to move quicker through the phases of lockdown lifting.
“I don’t see why we cannot return to training in small groups if we pass the tests.” Aside from the health and system element, finance is another contributor to Ireland’s status as an outlier when it comes to an concrete resumption.
While the four clubs in Europe are amenable to returning, others are steadfast against risking their futures without assurances on compensation for keeping fans out.
Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley cannot contemplate the campaign, halted in mid-March after just five series of fixtures, being scrapped, asserting such a scenario would set Irish football back 10 years.
Likewise Rogers bristles at the thought of the lull descending into a permenant shutdown for 2020.
He added: “Finance was always going to be difficult part of it. The government are playing their part through the wage subsidy scheme, as are FIFA and UEFA, and we’ve to find new ways of generating revenue like streaming.
“It’s a tough decision but I’d ask clubs do they sit around watching every other league play football in Europe this year or take a chance by trying to get extra revenue from streaming? I know which option I’d prefer.”
Progress won’t ensue on that front until the FAI produce a business-plan for the closed-door restart, an essential aspect they’ve asked the clubs for more time to collate.
The wait has heightened tensions, evidenced by a letter sent this week to the FAI from the Premier Clubs Alliance (PCA) claiming they were “taken aback” by Friday’s press statement on a roadmap to safer football without being first informed of its details.