Four League of Ireland clubs will officially return to training in groups of 10 from Monday after the Government announced an acceleration of their Covid-19 lockdown easing.
Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and Derry City — lined up for a pilot friendly tournament next month at Tallaght Stadium — had been preparing to use pods of half that number to train in but they’ll welcome the relaxation of the rules. All players and staff at the European qualified quartet have been tested twice in the past fortnight with no positive results returned.
The other 16 teams have been directed not to convene until June 15 despite the authorities green-lighting groups of 15 elite athletes assembling from next Monday under the revised protocols.
That could change following this morning’s summit of the FAI’s steering committee, as clubs at all levels await the go-ahead to resume football.
Youngsters and parents will be relieved in the meantime to learn that the FAI Soccer Schools are back on the agenda for July and August.
It also presents a boost to the cash-strapped FAI as these camps, coupled with coaching courses, generate around €7m per annum.
“We still have a long road to travel in the battle against Covid-19 but sport has a huge rule to play in Ireland’s recovery and these new guidelines will help get us back on the playing field as soon as it is safe for all our stakeholders,” said FAI interim CEO Gary Owens.
Having been given more clarity on the road to restart, all that’s left for the FAI to do is hammer out a deal League of Ireland clubs for playing matches behind closed doors.
Ireland is one of the most dependent leagues across Europe on matchday revenue, a source of income they’ll be deprived of due to health and safety guidelines around mass gatherings.
Obtaining an agreement to resume the season that was halted in March after only five series of matches remains uncertain, as a clear split has developed between the 19 clubs.
The domestic game still bears the wounds of previous financial mismanagement at clubs and they’re reluctant to face further risk unless the sums stack up.
A business plan has been promised for next Thursay by the FAI hierarchy but there was little sense emerging from yesterday’s latest teleconference between clubs and the FAI of a viable breakthrough.
For instance, the outlay for testing alone over a year has been estimated at €2m, a cost the FAI had indicated covering in conjunction with government agencies.
It has also emerged that the scale of income from the sale of live streaming rights is extremely limited — hindered by existing broadcast deals. The FAI had urged clubs to consider the potential of allowing fans subscribe to watch their fixtures online but, against that, they would have to compensate fans who got scant value for the season ticket they bought ahead of the kick-off in February.
While interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn talked up football’s advantage of being the first team sport restarting, the FAI have accepted that not all clubs are willing to jeopardise their future existence.
“We’ve gone ahead of the posse, because all our sports are in trouble in Ireland, it’s not just football,” Quinn told Sky Sports.
“We have tried to find a formula that will at least begin the pathway back for everyone. Some of the clubs are a little worried about that and we get that.
“It wouldn’t be right to plunge them into something they can’t sustain and we’ll need outside help for that.”
Meanwhile, the FAI will finally unveil their new high-performance strategy by the end of the month.
It had been intended to release the blueprint last year until they become immersed in unprecedented turmoil which led to the exit of CEO John Delaney.
It is believed some changes have been made to the document since Quinn and Owens arrived in January, with the latter recently claiming they would be pursuing the “Ajax model.”