No date for Cork soccer clubs' return but League of Ireland starts in March

Elite teams including Cork City and Cobh Ramblers will be in action next month
No date for Cork soccer clubs' return but League of Ireland starts in March

Supporters watch from the roadside the Beamish Stout MSL Premier Division game between Carrigaline United and College Corinthians at Ballea Park last September. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CORK clubs will have to wait until next month for further clarification on when they're likely to return to training and matches.

The FAI have detailed the precautions in place to safely start the new League of Ireland season next month but are unable to construct a roadmap for amateur teams until Level 5 restrictions ease, which won't be until March 5 at the earliest.

A statement explained: "The Football Association of Ireland has today updated National Council, AGM members and affiliates on the current situation around football in a national lockdown and an outline proposal moving forward as Level 5 restrictions remain in place until March 5 at the earliest."

In a letter to stakeholders, CEO Jonathan Hill outlined the FAI’s stance as the Association continues to engage with Government, Sport Ireland and the Expert Medical Group on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Irish football.

Commenting on his letter to members, CEO Hill stated: “In relation to the ongoing Level 5 lockdown situation, it is obviously the case that currently there can be no grassroots matches or even training in any situation and we thank all of our players and volunteers for their adherence to the Government guidelines.

We know how frustrating it is not to be playing the game we love at the moment but we all understand the wider need to control the pandemic. 

"Being realistic, it is also very likely to be the case that this situation will extend some time beyond March 5 as the Government plans its overall approach. 

"As such, we continue to plan carefully for the point at which we are able at all levels of our sport to look at a return to play, be it at a training or competitive level or indeed from a simple recreational perspective.” 

Cobh Ramblers FC have officially announced the new club partners for the 2021 season as Belvelly Castle of Cobh.
Cobh Ramblers FC have officially announced the new club partners for the 2021 season as Belvelly Castle of Cobh.

Current Level 5 guidelines allow for the return of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division, First Division and Women’s National League in March with the season set to open with the President’s Cup meeting of league champions Shamrock Rovers and FAI Cup holders Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium on Friday, March 12.

Senior men and women’s clubs in the League of Ireland have already or are about to commence, pre-season training with all committed to the Government guidelines and the updated FAI Protocols which issued last week ahead of webinars on Covid-19 for all League of Ireland doctors, physios, medical staff and managers and coaches, held virtually last Saturday.

Hill added: “We are of course grateful to Government for allowing us to continue to play the game at senior elite level and we look forward to seeing football being played again.

This return to senior football can act as a yardstick for the return at all levels of the game. 

We fully understand our responsibilities here, both to our players and the wider support staff and we have worked hard to improve our Covid-19 protocols from our many learnings in 2020 to produce new and refined versions.

“Delivering a safe and controlled environment for football during the pandemic is obviously key and another signal to the Government that we can play football in a safe and controlled way. 

"But we recognise this return to play cannot be reflected in the grassroots game at this time and indeed we are working with all of our affiliates on an ongoing basis to review which of our upcoming events and programmes could be played out safely and which may need to be postponed, moved online or even cancelled.” 

Together with Medical Director Dr Alan Byrne, a member of the Expert Medical Group, the Association is working with affiliates on identifying the key mental health areas that need to be addressed across the sport during this Level 5 lockdown.

CEO Hill continued: “We also recognise the physical, mental and societal issues that our wider communities are facing during this prolonged and enforced break from the game and these are firmly at the heart of our ongoing discussions with Government.

“We were grateful for the support received from Government in 2020 across all facets of our game and we are engaged with them already on the issue of support in 2021 for the Association, for grassroots clubs and for the League of Ireland. 

“Our game has played its part in the community fight against Covid-19. Our members have been committed to the FAI Protocols and the Government guidelines and they continue to respect those rules as they sit out this current lockdown. They are patient and they will need to remain patient.

"I can promise all our stakeholders that as soon as we get the green light, they will be back on the pitch.”

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