The FAI has confirmed that it hopes to resume competitive football in the Airtricity League on Friday, June 19th with the association stating that the target was settled on after assessments of the situation presented to it by Uefa earlier this week.
Under the terms of the plan, both divisions of the league will resume at the same time and the Premier Division will be cut by one full round of games to three, with each club playing 27 matches, so as to finish it up on December 4th.
In his address to the conference call involving all 19 clubs, interim chief executive Gary Owens is said to have suggested that the First Division would involve just two rounds of games and would conclude on October 23rd.
The clubs appear to have taken issue with the idea and despite practical problems for the couple of clubs – UCD and Cabinteely – that share grounds with rugby teams, they have subsequently held discussions aimed at devising a schedule that would see all three rounds be completed in time to fit in with the proposed December 11th date for the final promotion/relegation playoff game.
It is proposed that the FAI Cup will be played as originally intended, with the final to take on November 1st, while the EA Sports Cup will not now be continued. Owens is reported to have acknowledged that the resumption is timed, in part, to allow the four clubs due to compete in Europe in July to get some competitive football under their belts.
Given the outlook with regard to the Coronavirus and the general perception that the worst of the crisis is still ahead in almost every European country, it is far from clear how realistic the proposed resumption date actually is. Even if Ireland is back to something approaching normal, there must be a huge question mark hanging over the early qualifying rounds of the European club competitions, which include teams from every corner of the continent.
"There are no certainties around the Covid-19 pandemic," acknowledged FAI competitions director, Fran Gavin, in a statement issued after the discussions. "But this decision offers us something to aim for. Uefa hope to have European football back up and running by early June at the latest so June 19 is a realistic target for us at this moment in time.
“Together with the clubs and the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI), we will work together towards this date and continue to liaise with the NLEC and the PFAI to protect our clubs and players as best we can.
“The FAI will continue to work with the Department of Health and the HSE to prioritise the health of our players, match officials, supporters and staff at this time and we will continue to follow all government guidelines.”
PFAI general secretary Stephen McGuinness suggested that while the plan may be far from perfect from the players’ point of view, “it is probably the best you could do in the circumstances”.
“Okay, there are no guarantees and if a club is losing five home gates of €30,000 apiece then that’s a big hole in their budget for the year but that might be as much as anyone can hope for right now.
“I don’t know whether it can be done; nobody seems to know what is going to happen even over the next couple of weeks, but it is seems to be what Uefa is saying should be possible and so they are working off that.
“The players all want to get back,” he added, “but there is still a lot of detail to do with contracts to be worked out over the next two or three weeks.”