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Douglas Hall's Patrick Carey and Rory Harrington, College Corinthians, tussle for the ball during a Cork Youths League 1 game at Moneygourney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Douglas Hall's Patrick Carey and Rory Harrington, College Corinthians, tussle for the ball during a Cork Youths League 1 game at Moneygourney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
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Cork soccer teams now have a roadmap for a late summer return but League of Ireland format still to be finalised

CORK City and Cobh Ramblers can train again from June 29, while the rest of Cork's amateur soccer teams must wait until July 20 to commence their return, with full training from August 10.

The FAI have put together a comprehensive plan to work towards the return of soccer, post coronavirus lockdown, but there will be no action in the coming weeks for all bar the four League of Ireland clubs who qualified for Europe.

At least Cork teams at underage and adult level now have a target to get back on the pitch, with matches pencilled in from August 28. Depending of course on national efforts to emerge from the safety measures in place since March being successful.

No doubt that it is why Dr Alan Byrne warned: “My advice to clubs is not to return to training when we enter Phase One of the Government Roadmap on Monday, not to open their grounds and pitches, even to groups of four, and not to consider collective training or playing football until the medical evidence suggests otherwise.”

In recent years Cork City were involved in Europe, but after a poor campaign in 2019 at Turner's Cross they missed out on qualification. That means the Leesiders are in cold storage until June 29.

Cork City's Daire O'Connor in action against Cobh Ramblers during a friendly in Mayfield. Picture: Doug Minihane
Cork City's Daire O'Connor in action against Cobh Ramblers during a friendly in Mayfield. Picture: Doug Minihane

Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City will be allowed to resume collective training on June 8. They'll then take part in a mini-tournament behind closed doors, with all players and staff undergoing regular Covid-19 tests from next week. 

The success and safety of the four-team event will have a major bearing on getting soccer back up and running in Ireland. Peamount United could also return to training soon, depending on the revised Women's Champions League. 

It remains to be seen what structure the League of Ireland will have from here. A behind closed doors format at neutral venues such as the Aviva, Tallaght, Thomond Park and Athlone Town's stadium has been mooted, with games streamed and revenue shared to compensate clubs from lack of gate receipts.

Cork's local leagues such as the MSL, AUL, CSL and Business League have a small window to complete season 2019-'20, between August 28 and October 11. 

They have to apply to the FAI by June 15 if they wish to conclude last season, while October 16 is the start date for the new 2020-'21 campaign should they opt to void the suspended competitions.

The FAI expect to run a pilot programme for two weeks from August 14-28 before official games begin.

The plan is tied in to the Government’s Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business though the FAI are cautioning clubs not to allow players train in small groups of four or less before June 29.

FAI Medical Director Dr Alan Byrne, appointed by Sport Ireland to the Medical Advisory Group, established to review the various sporting protocols for a return, said: “My recommendation to the FAI is to begin with a pilot programme on June 8 for the four SSE Airtricity League teams who have qualified for European football. This will allow us to analyse every step of their journey back to football, beginning with a safe return to training.

“The information we will gather from that pilot programme will be invaluable for all players, at all levels of the game, as we look to establish a safer pathway to a return for all football, one that can be approved by all Government agencies and UEFA. We all want football back in our lives but it is not worth risking one life by rushing to get our game back.

“The only certainty around a return to football during this Covid-19 pandemic is the uncertainty. As Medical Director of the Football Association of Ireland, I must look at any planned return to football from a medical viewpoint, with the health and safety of everyone concerned to the forefront in any decision making.

“My advice to clubs is not to return to training when we enter Phase One of the Government Roadmap on Monday, May 18, not to open their grounds and pitches, even to groups of four, and not to consider collective training or playing football until the medical evidence suggests otherwise.

“Decisive actions by our clubs now, will improve the chances of a safer return to football for everyone. We must take small and deliberate steps before we can allow all football to return."