WE saw a return to action last weekend with games in the Bundesliga, giving us all a taste of what we were missing over the past few months.
Closer to home there have been some more steps towards re-opening local football and completing the 2019/2020 season following the publishing of the FAI’s Safe Return to Football at the weekend.
In this document, the FAI stated its commitment to a return to football for all players, staff, match officials, administrators, volunteers and supporters as soon as it is safe and possible under the guidance of the HSE, the Department of Health, Sport Ireland, NHPET and UEFA.
Since the publication of the FAI document, though, the Cork Schoolboys League have announced the they will be scrapping their 2019/2020 season.
There remains, though, a window of opportunity for the other amateur leagues in Cork.
While the Munster Senior League continue to hammer home the point that a return to football is contingent on the safety of players and officials, there are hopes that a pilot programme, which would take place between August 14-28 subject to medical advice, could pave the way to the re-opening of the county’s biggest soccer league.
Prior to that pilot programme, which will be run by the FAI, another project involving four invited SSE Airtricity League clubs — Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City, and Bohemians, will be launched on June 8, which includes a return to training and participation in a four-team tournament ahead of those clubs’ European games in late July/early August.
The FAI Steering Group will monitor that pilot programme and the information gathered from that tournament will help in the preparation of a protocol document for a return for all adult amateur and underage football.
The proposed two-week window for amateur teams to return to action will be run under FAI auspices and not the local leagues.
As such, it could see the national organisation use the window to complete the FAI Intermediate Cup and FAI Junior Cup competitions, which would mean that Ringmahon will see action against Killester in their semi-final.
If government safety protocols are satisfied then the MSL could then return to full collective training on August 10, with the restart of the league on August 28 to be finished by October 11.
If leagues opt to scrap the season, then the 2020/21 campaign can begin on October 16.
After a recent meeting by the FAI Steering Committee, on which MSL chairman John Finnegan sits, leagues and clubs around the country were contacted by email seeking their opinion on whether to complete the season or simply start afresh in September.
At Munster Senior League level, there were a number of clubs who wanted to return, some hadn’t replied, but the majority wanted to scrap the season. Those responses will or have already been passed on to the FAI.
July 20 had been the date set for club grounds to re-open to for training in small groups before full training on August 10 ahead of that potential pilot scheme.
Finnegan is is only too aware that this decision to complete the season or not needs to be the right one for all concerned.
“First and foremost, the safety and the health of players, managers, and officials is the most important aspect to be considered,” Finnegan said.
“It would be a big operation to get up and running and to be completed in the time frame that has been laid out.
“We have over 200 league games to be completed across seven divisions — that’s an average of around 30 games a week — and it’s important that we keep the integrity of the league.
“All of the clubs who replied, and I’m disappointed that a small few didn’t, will have their opinions taken on board, but ultimately the decision will have be taken by the management committee, and the clubs will be the first to know of our decision.
“We will go through all the scenarios, but if a club doesn’t want to go back on health grounds, they can’t before forced to return and when it comes to making our decision we will be guided by all of the health experts,” he added.
Deep down, all MSL clubs will be itching to get back playing, but whether that happens in August or October remains to be seen.
Since the lockdown a lot of clubs have been thinking outside the box with regard to keeping their members active and in touch with each other using the many online outlets.
Midleton, one of the biggest clubs in Cork, were one of many that organised fundraising events for good causes.
On such event was the brain child of the club’s senior and junior captains, James McCarthy and Lochlan McCarthy, who came with a 5k run.
“The two lads got together and came up with this idea and had a target of €500,” Midleton club chairman Mick Kirby explained.
“The idea was to run, walk, or cycle and post online that you did it
“It sort of snowballed after that as members throughout the club got involved and and then it spread to other teams in the community.
“After the second week the distillery got behind it and they asked all of their employees and contractors to do a 5K and they boosted the fund by €3,000 to bring it to over €11,000 in total.
“The money went to Midleton Hospital and the Meals on Wheels.
“With no football, we tried to keep our members busy during the lockdown with competitions for our underage players, boys and girls, like keepie uppies, with huge records broken and there were crossbar challenges also.
“We started another scheme last week with senior player Ray Lally doing online sessions for players of all grades in the club.”
Kirby believes is crucial to keep contact within the club.
“It’s important that we keep connected. Players haven’t played for a long time, coaches haven’t been on the training pitch and it’s also important to keep the parents interested.
“People enjoy the break, I’ve even found myself happy with more time on my hands, but people could get used to that so it’s important to keep things going and make sure that people don’t lose interest.
“This lockdown has helped bring us together and helping out local charities has helped bring us closer to the community,” Kirby added.
The Midleton chairman doesn’t expect a return to football anytime soon and the Magpies were one of the majority of clubs that opted to cancel the season and move on to next campaign.
“We feel the best option is to scrap the season. We believe, overall, there is too much going on there will be too many restrictions to feel safe.
“We have roughly 700 members in the club, from players to coaches to volunteers, with some of those potentially having players underlying conditions and insurance could be a big issue,” added Kirby.