After running into obstacles over the last few days, talks involving the FAI, clubs and players will resume this week in an effort to reach agreement on a deal to allow for the resumption of the League of Ireland behind closed doors.
A planned meeting between the FAI and the clubs yesterday was cancelled and has been rescheduled for tomorrow.
The postponement followed the rejection on Sunday night of an FAI proposal for last season’s top four finishers — Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City — to contribute €100,000 each from their European prize money to an overall €1.7m fighting fund to be spread among all Premier and First Division clubs.
There was also some resistance from other clubs about the way in which the sums for the Premier Division teams — ranging from €100,000 to €160,000 — were allocated, with Derry City saying its distribution lacked fairness.
“The Derry City board are not yet convinced that the proposed distribution is equitable,” the club said in a statement. “Derry City is one of only three clubs who have kept their staff and players on full salary. That effort and commitment has not been properly recognised in the proposed distribution of financial compensation.
“Negotiations will continue this coming week and the Derry board will continue to be constructive and supportive in the difficult circumstances that have arisen because of the pandemic. Hopefully, those efforts will be properly recognised in the continuing negotiations.”
The players’ union, the PFAI, is also set to have a meeting with the FAI on Thursday, with Stephen McGuinness, the PFAI’s general secretary, telling Virgin Media News that a “one-size fits all” approach wouldn’t work for the league.
“No, I don’t see that working because some of our clubs are part time, some are full time, some are in Europe. It is very difficult.
"The Covid-19 wage subsidy is key. It’s very important that that’s kept in play, if not the exact scheme itself, but in some way to help sport, not just our sport, other sports as well. But I do think we are in a very unique position and I do hope that support is there.”
McGuinness said he still retained cautious optimism that the league could return this season. But if it fails to return, he said he fears it might prove impossible to undo the damage.
“To think that we could be the only league in Europe whose league doesn’t start, I think that would do irreparable damage to the brand of it,” he said.
“I’m a glass-half-full man, so I am hopeful. But it just has to be financially viable. I’m hopeful that over the next couple of days that outside parties can play a role in getting us back.”
While the early reactions to the FAI plan may not have been encouraging, there is still a determination from all parties to get a deal over the line. The possibility of further funding from within the FAI itself as well as from Fifa and the Government could favourably alter the picture.
There is also talk of kicking off the season earlier than had been originally planned — at the beginning of August rather the middle of the month — so that it would finish by November, thereby staying within the usual calendar season and helping to address player contract issues as well as maximising the duration of the Covid-19 subsidy.
Another issue of concern is that a truncated season would penalise clubs already in danger of dropping into the second tier, with one suggestion being floated that — assuming the First Division returns as well — relegation from the top flight could be suspended for one season.