THE decision by the Munster Senior League to cancel the 2019/2020 season was met with mixed reaction over the weekend.
The MSL issued a statement last Saturday, outlining their reasons for scrapping all competitions this year, stating that, given the health risks and the fact that 70% of clubs polled on whether to complete the season or not opted for the latter, it was the right decision.
The MSL’s decision means that the tables will stand as they are and there will be no league champions in any of their six grades and there will be no promotion or relegation.
MSL chairman John Finnegan admitted that the decision to end the league was a difficult one and it was not taken lightly.
“Since the government roadmap on a return to football was published, we went through all seven divisions and looked at them carefully,” Finnegan said.
“We came to our decision after careful consideration with regard to all the clubs and teams in the league and the majority of them had a preference for not continuing.
“In no division was there more than 50% of clubs who wanted to complete the league and in some divisions 80% didn’t want to carry on.
“The integrity of the league is what is important as well as safety of the players and officials.
“We toyed with the idea of waiting, but there was too much uncertainty and we felt that it would not be practical to finish the season in a safe and healthy environment.”
“We accept that some clubs will be aggrieved by the decision to end the season and people may take issue depending on where they are in the table. We know that there was even division internally within some clubs about going ahead or not.
“There has been a lot said on social media, and some of it is disappointing to see, but we feel we have treated everyone the same.”
The decision to cancel all competitions is sure to be a disappointment for many clubs and supporters of local soccer, with many close league races as well as promotion, and relegation battles now going decided.
When the season halted back in the first weekend in March, Rockmount had taken control of top spot in Beamish Stout Premier division with victory, a 5-0 win over Douglas Hall, which gave them a two-point lead over Ringmahon Rangers who had a game in hand.
The northside outfit were also due to play in three cup finals, the Munster Senior Cup, the Keane Cup and the Donie Forde Cup — the latter two against College Corinthians — while they were expected to slug it out with Ringmahon for league honours.
For the Mahon outfit, though, the season may not be a complete washout.
Under the FAI’s plan for a return to football, a pilot programme for amateur football is scheduled to take place from August 14-28, which could see the completion of the FAI Intermediate Cup, with Ringmahon set to face Killester in the semi-final.
In the senior first division it was a three-way race, with Blarney United on top by four points from second-placed Mayfield United, with the O’Shea Park side having won nine league games on the bounce.
Castleview were in third spot five points behind the leaders.
Of the trio, Blarney and Castleview had been knocking on the promotion door for the least few seasons, with the latter having finished third in the past three years.
There was an interesting title race also in the second division with just four points separating leaders Wilton and fourth-placed Lakewood, with Youghal and Riverstown joint second in between, and all four having eight games to play.
In the junior grades Carrigaline United led the premier division by six points from holders Everton, with Avondale a point behind while in the first division just five points separated top six, with Passage leading the way.
In the second division, it looked a bit more straight forward with Tramore and St Mary’s favourites to win their sections and, with it, promotion, before a play-off game to decide the title.
While all the teams mentioned will be disappointed at missing out on league honours and/or promotion, it must also be said that the cancellation of the season will come as a relief to teams at the lower end of their tables, as they will avoid a relegation battle and preserve their status for next season.
In the senior premier division, as many as five teams were facing a tricky run-in with just seven points between them, and with bottom two St Mary’s and Cobh Wanderers having at least one game in hand on the teams above them, Douglas Hall, Midleton, and Carrigaline United.
It was tight also in the lower half of the first division with seven points separating the bottom five teams.
Cancelling the season, without having title winners and promotion or regular has stirred much debate and there was a body of opinion that felt the season could have been completed using teams a points per game ratio, but Finnegan believes that wouldn’t be the right move.
“We didn’t look at any other options of bringing the season to a conclusion. The finishing table is as it stands now.
“We felt awarding points per game would be wrong because you should complete your league programme to become champions.
“Just because a team might have had a good run in the first half of the season doesn’t mean their form will continue that way. That’s the beauty of sport, the unpredictability of it.
“It was a difficult decision and it was never going to please everyone.”
Looking forward to next season Finnegan there will have to be some adjustments.
“The registration of teams and players and transfer windows will be looked at and a decision will be made at national level on those.
“We could be looking at a later start to the season, but that will again be subject to health guidelines and we will be looking at the registration fees for next season and communicating with the clubs,” Finnegan added.