League of Ireland clubs remain in the dark about return prospects

League of Ireland clubs are no wiser about the feasibility of completing the 2020 season behind closed doors after yesterday’s latest weekly teleconference with the FAI.
League of Ireland clubs remain in the dark about return prospects

League of Ireland clubs are no wiser about the feasibility of completing the 2020 season behind closed doors after yesterday’s latest weekly teleconference with the FAI.

The association’s new hierarchy have spent the last 10 weeks devising methods of compensating clubs for sacrificing matchday income due to keeping fans out under direction of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Confirmation from government yesterday that the wage subsidy scheme would extend beyond this month for full-time workers was welcomed but, conversely, the new reality has burdened the restart project with hefty outlays for streaming upgrades and recurrent Covid-19 testing.

While the four clubs preparing for European ties in early August seem enthused by the proposals, and are on track for a pilot quadrangular tournament from July 20, the numbers have yet to add up for others.

FAI interim deputy chief executive Niall Quinn admits the final decision rests with clubs but warned they have been ‘implored’ by Uefa to get the show back on the road.

Finalised projections are expected after Monday’s next phase of liftdown lifting and ahead of Uefa’s executive meeting on June 17 which will outline the revised calendar.

Also raised at yesterday’s virtual gathering was a breach by Bohemians of the FAI’s return to safer football protocols.

The Gypsies were forced on Wednesday night to admit they defied the advice of FAI medical director Alan Byrne six times since May 18 after footage appeared on social media showing players and staff in public parks.

They chose to follow the state’s recommendations instead, yet admitted that two pods of three players and one coach training at the same venue amounted to an error.

Gary Owens, the FAI’s interim CEO, made his displeasure clear during the teleconference and, accordingly, accepted the club’s apology last night.

"We regret if our actions, although made in good faith in line with phase one of the government roadmap, may have placed the FAI’s programme at risk,” said the Gypsies in a statement.

Under that timeline, Bohs and the three other participants in next month’s pilot tournament at Tallaght Stadium can restart collective training from next Monday. The other 16 squads across both divisions cannot return till the third phase of the state’s procedures on June 29.

Meanwhile, the task surrounding the stated desire of Owens to repair a “fractured” Irish football pyramid has been magnified by the latest intervention on governance reforms.

Athlone Town went public in distancing themselves from the concerns outlined in the missive by Nixon Morton to Fifa, requesting the FAI Schools representative formally withdraws the letter.

Doubts persist over the FAI’s prospects of gaining buy-in from members to overhaul their committee structures – a prerequisite under the terms of a bailout deal struck with the government in January.

The Midlands club became engaged in a public spat with FAI regime led by former CEO John Delaney following a matchfixing scandal in 2018.

Town, led by Chairman John Hayden, claimed only “flimsy” evidence was applied to the association’s decision to impose 12-month bans on Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan following a match against Longford Town.

Athlone have now pledged their backing to the hierarchy, led for now by Owens and his deputy Niall Quinn, contending they inherited “a mess” when appointed in January.

They cite the onset of Covid-19 has “complicated” their plans but believe the council reshuffle is “not just desired but required”.

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“The contents of said letter, received in recent days Mr John Hayden along with other FAI council members, made references to and raised concerns about the FAI’s interim board and governance at the association,” they said in their statement.

“Having considered the letter’s contents our board would like to make it crystal clear that it in no way supports, shares nor endorses any of the concerns expressed by Mr. Morton.

“Nor does ATAFC believe that these concerns are shared by the vast majority of those involved in Irish football.”

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