Airtricity League clubs targeting a return by the end of June

Sligo became the first Premier Division outfit to lay off players as clubs grapple with the crisis

A proposal to target a restart of competitive football towards the end of June is to be put to a meeting of SSE Airtricity League clubs on Friday. The schedule came out of discussions on Thursday between the National League Executive Committee (NLEC) and FAI in Dublin.

The plan, which might be regarded by some as being on the ambitious side of things given the generally expressed expectation with regard to the duration of the coronavirus crisis, would be to restart games around June 20th, extend the league well beyond the regular end of October end date and possibly into the new year, to run the FAI Cup but to not to continue with the EA Sports Cup competition this season. The intention would be to run a full programme of league games.

The hope seems to be that resuming in late June –- after a preseason of two or three weeks – would allow the four clubs due to take part in European competition in July the chance to be fully fit for those matches.

Clearly, though, other clubs will be happy to get back playing again if it can be done at that stage and the relatively early restart would maintain the possibility of finishing out this season in its entirety and starting next year’s campaign early enough to essentially get back to the normal schedule.

It was also confirmed at the meeting that the FAI is to pay all outstanding prize money from last season to clubs and that the affiliation fees for this year are to be waived.

The rescheduling proposal will now be put to a meeting of all 19 clubs, several of whom had expressed the belief in recent days that the suspension of competitive football might extend well beyond the end of June.

One of those, Sligo Rovers, made the point in a statement as it became the first Premier Division club to announce temporary lay-offs with a total of 30 players, management and administrative staff affected, because of its belief that "League of Ireland football cannot resume until the summer at the earliest, and likely later. To do anything else would be reckless," the club said in a statement in relation to its own decision regarding staff, "and put the very future of Sligo Rovers under severe threat".

All of the First Division clubs had already informed the PFAI that they would be suspending payments to players until football resumes. With only 40 or so professionals across the league's second tier, the move by Sligo represents a significant escalation for those dependent on the senior game here for a living as other clubs are bound to consider their own positions.

Good idea

The situation has prompted one group of Irish players based in England to donate €25,000 to a fund intended to help those who are having to go without their wages in the league here.

James McClean, Enda Stevens, Kevin Long and Gavin Bazunu are among the clients of former Arsenal and Shamrock Rovers striker turned agent Graham Barrett to have contributed to the fund which will be administered jointly by NLEC chairman Noel Byrne and the PFAI.

"I thought it was a really good idea," young Manchester City goalkeeper, Bazunu, told The Irish Times.

“I had been looking at ways that I could do something in the current situation so I jumped at it when Graham suggested this.

“I still watch the league every week that I can; I’m always searching around for streams and obviously I still know a lot of lads playing here. You want the league to be going ahead but while it’s not, you just want to do something to help out for them.”

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