Wexford F.C. players ‘raring to go’
There's light at the end of the tunnel for Wexford F.C. after the FAI released a pathway to the resumption of the SSE Airtricity League season.
The governing body has announced plans for a four-team tournament to be held behind closed doors, with Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Bohemians competing in what will be part of a pilot programme for a return to football for all.
That quartet have been given the green light to return to collective training on June 8, with the other League of Ireland clubs following suit on June 29, with hopes of leagues resuming in August.
The FAI have stressed that plans are subject to change based on medical advice, with the safety of everyone involved paramount, while players and staff at clubs will undergo regular Covid-19 testing.
Nothing may be completely set in stone yet, but Wexford F.C. Secretary/Treasurer Ray Noonan believes it's good to at least have something to aim for.
'Two weeks ago we were getting the feeling that the thing was dead in the water, but all of a sudden in the last week things have taken off again and now the FAI are quite upbeat that football will take place before the summer is out. That's a huge step forward,' he said.
However, with everything chopping and changing so much in the past few months and with the whole country embroiled in a cloud of uncertainty, Noonan is certainly not going to count his chickens at this juncture.
'The FAI issued quite a detailed release and there's a lot of concrete dates there, but I'm still taking some of these things with a pinch of salt because they're changing so frequently. We're all mad keen to get back playing football, but obviously we want to do it on a basis that nobody is at risk.
'I don't think there's going to be football played at Ferrycarrig Park this year and I don't think fans are going to be at matches this year, but at this stage it's looking like there will be league games played and I suppose that's something,' he said.
Where exactly the games will be played is still up in the air, with the likes of the Aviva Stadium, Abbotstown, Athlone Town's Lissywollen ground, and Thomond Park mooted as possible venues.
'It makes sense so far as the precautions you need to take around grounds. I don't think you can take the risk of 19 clubs being capable to do it properly, and certainly the costs to do it in 19 grounds are prohibitive,' Noonan said.
'The responsibility is taken away from the clubs and they'll be put on centrally with a lot of expert guidance. The clubs arrive, play their games, and go home.'
Of course, making a return to play financially viable for clubs is one of the biggest bones of contention, and that's something that's sure to be hammered out over the coming weeks.
'We gave them fairly blow-by-blow details as to what it would cost us as a club to go back, and it's not just loss of match income. Obviously we'd lose gate income, but also our draws, our shop and our sponsorship.
'The figure they've come up with of €1.1 million to compensate clubs, if you divide that up by 19 and gave us a share we'd do fine, but I can't see how the likes of Rovers or Dundalk or any of those would be satisfied with that kind of share. It seems a small amount of money on an overall basis.
'There's a lot of numbers being bandied about but, in fairness, the FAI are working hard and they certainly have the same interests as we have and they're certainly very inclusive in terms of the First Division.
'Gary Owens and Niall Quinn and the team behind the scenes are working hard, certainly in the last week they've become a lot more upbeat about the potential of running the league. I suppose our club's position has always been, we'd love to play but we can't jeopardise the future of the club financially, so we need to see some money come on the table.
'I've no doubt some will, whether it will be enough to keep clubs going and support running costs for the rest of the season remains to be seen,' Noonan added.
Players would have to weigh up the risk and reward of returning to pitches, and some might be initially reluctant, particularly at an amateur club like Wexford F.C., but Noonan is confident that the squad will be eager for action once the precautions are in place.
'On the face of it most, if not all, of our squad are raring to go. We've yet to pose the question because there had been no point really up to now.
'My understanding is the vast majority of them would be very keen to play, but again we'll make sure we give them assurances about the safety of it and that.
'We'll have a squad alright and our manager is raring to go as well. We'll be ready if and when it comes.'