HOPES of a return to action on the local soccer front seem to fade every week, but the various leagues, clubs, and players are still hoping that the 2020/21 season can be completed.
There has been no competitive soccer played, outside of national league level, since early October when the country went into Level 3 Lockdown.
At the time, there was hope that leagues would return to action by October 27, but that didn’t happen and we still await the green light for a return to the country’s playing fields.
However, last week’s announcement by Taoiseach Micheal Martin that Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until May may have sounded the death-knell for the current season.
It has led to frustration across the soccer community with players and managers anxious for news on if and when they can resume their leagues.
When football stopped back in October, Munster Senior League chairman John Finnegan said that he and the management committee were determined that they would complete their league programmes this season.
Of course, the hope at the time was that we would be back in action by now, or at least have a better idea on a return than we have at the present.
Finnegan, though, is still hopeful that they can complete their programme, even if it has to be delayed further, but admits that it will only happen if they can return safely and they can only do so if the government and their health advisers deem it safe.
“We have a plan to return to action, but it completely depends on the government’s decision,” Finnegan said.
“There was hope, expectation even, about going back sooner, but the government will be doubly cautious after what happened over the Christmas period with the huge increase in cases.
“We are aware, though, of the need to get back playing as soon as possible; it’s frustrating for everybody, but we can only go back when it’s safe to go back.
“The next update is in March and I think schools and construction will be the priority then; I don’t think amateur sport is a high priority at the moment.”
With the beginning of the GAA inter-county season now pushed back and as well as Irish Hockey cancelling their season, it doesn’t bode well for non-elite soccer as the days count down towards the summer.
Most teams have roughly two-thirds of their season to complete, though there are exceptions, notably UCC whose three MSL teams have just one game played.
However Finnegan believes if they can start by May, they will have enough time to run off the leagues.
“If we get the green light, there will have to be a bit of a pre-season for clubs to prepare and it will be like they are starting again.
“If we get back by a reasonable date, though, we could run off the leagues fairly quickly. The pitches will be better, we will have night games, and the clubs will get all of their fixtures in advance and will be able to plan for them.
“There are a lot of reasons why it’s important to resume the season as soon as possible, not least for people’s mental health,” he added.
Sport, no matter what it is, is important.
"It was a big issue last season when sport was ruled out for much of the year, but I think it’s much more of an issue this year.”
Evidence of the frustration among players and clubs has been seen on a number of media platforms recently, comments citing a lack of communication between the league and clubs and a lack of information about a plan for a return to action.
Finnegan was disappointed with that.
“Speculation on social media is inevitable, but it’s not helpful,” said Finnegan.
“I’m a member of the FAI’s Covid committee and when I know, the clubs will know. We (the league) have a plan to return, but we can’t make a decision on it until the government says so.”