Results from the first League of Ireland Covid-19 tests are expected tomorrow or Thursday.
Players and first team staff at Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Bohemians underwent tests at their respective grounds and training facilities yesterday morning, as they took the first steps towards their scheduled return to training on June 8th, ahead of a planned mini-tournament at a neutral venue later this summer which is designed to help those clubs prepare for European competition and also function as part of a pilot programme for a return to football for all.
The players will be tested again on June 1st, the second of 12 tests for which they have already been given dates. It's understood that should a test prove positive, the individual will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, but it's believed that in the event of a cluster of cases — that is three or more positives — being detected, then training for the whole club affected will be immediately suspended.
Yesterday’s first round of testing was carried out by AMS (Advanced Medical Services), an Ireland and UK-based provider of on-site medical services to sporting organisations as well as schools, hospitals and corporates.
The players and staff who were tested had been given designated individual time slots and arrived and left on their own without having any contact with their colleagues. The tests took the form of a throat swab and, according to Shamrock Rovers and Ireland midfielder, Jack Byrne, the procedure took less than 20 seconds.
“We’re happy to get it done as it’s another step closer to training soon,” he told FAI TV.
I think it’s important for everyone in the country that football gets back when it’s safe to do so. I think we’re taking the right measures to come back to football in time and in a safe way.
"Football is such a huge part of this country and we need to take these steps for football to return, from the league to the grassroots. I can’t wait to return and get back to playing football.”
Stephen McGuinness, General Secretary the PFAI, the footballers’ union — whose officials were in contact with player reps at each of the four clubs throughout the day — described the testing process as “robust”.
“From our point of view, we feel that we’ve been part of the process in regards to testing,” he said.
“We had a two-hour Zoom meeting with all the player delegates and (FAI Medical Director) Alan Byrne the other night to ask every question possible in regards to testing and a possible restart.
"All went well yesterday. The testing process looks to be robust. The players had been given the info they needed about the tests and the dates. It’s not something where suddenly the club or the FAI have just rung the player up to and said, ‘arrive in tomorrow’. The player delegates have felt very much part of the decision-making and have had every question answered."
A recent survey by the PFAI showed that 87% per cent of League of Ireland players backed a return to playing when it is safe to do so, while 88% wanted to see Covid-19 testing in place on their return to training and 92% expressed support for regular testing throughout the season.
“That gives you a picture of where we’re at,” said McGuinness. “Of course, there are some players who are not sure about the planned return and that will be respected if and when we go back and play.
"But I very much think that we’re in a position where players are comfortable with testing. No-one has been forced to do anything and, to give credit to Alan Byrne and his team, it’s going according to plan.
"Everything we asked for so far has been provided, and a Covid-19 officer at each of the four clubs will be place on June 8th when they go back training. The players felt it was important that there would be somebody there to ensure that all the procedures are followed.”
Commenting on the first round of testing, Dr Alan Byrne said: "This was a significant day as we plot our return for all football in Ireland in a safe environment for players, staff, officials and volunteers.
We must take slow and deliberate steps in this COVID-19 pandemic and testing of these four squads is crucial as we look to deliver this pathway to a safer return to football for all elements of our game.
“We have begun the process for players at all levels, not just for those tested under the pilot programme. Once we start to analyse the results of these tests, we can move forward.
We will test the players from these four clubs again before they return to training on June 8th and then again regularly when they are back on the training field.
“Everything we do now is designed to ensure that football can return for everyone as soon as it is safe and responsible.
"We owe that to all our players, from the elite players in the League of Ireland to the schoolboys and schoolgirls who want to get back on the pitch with their clubs, but their health and safety must come first.
This is the first step and a significant step in that process.”