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Irish football has no quick remedy for Covid-19


FAI CEO Gary Owens. Photo: Sportsfile

FAI CEO Gary Owens. Photo: Sportsfile

FAI CEO Gary Owens. Photo: Sportsfile

After the excitement came the dose of realism.

And while an 11.30am conference call today involving an FAI steering committee on how to get football back again out of the Covid-19 crisis will offer badly needed clarity on when exactly fans can expect to see matches involving the international teams, the League of Ireland, European competitions and the Women's National League, any suggestion that a rapid return to action, even to meet the initial June 19 deadline, is wide of the mark.

Football in Ireland, like every nation scarred by Covid-19, has major hurdles to cross before action is witnessed on the field of play, and even the prospect of stephen Kenny's senior side playing a Nations League game in Lansdowne Road (the Republic are due to host Finland on September 6) is something that can't be banked on.

Across Europe, countries are taking different paths out of the crisis and Ireland, understandably, is one of those burdened by a massive question mark.

On the same day that Sweden announced that league football will resume there on June 14, the Dutch government declared there will be no football activity until September 1.

When it emerged yesterday that "mass gatherings" of more than 5,000 would be impossible until the end of August, some took that as a door opening for events with crowds of under 5,000. It's almost a perfect figure for the League of Ireland as only two fixtures go over the 5,000-mark.

Fans and players, starved of action since mid-March, began to dream of seeing games again.

FAI CEO Gary Owens even saw it as a possible "opportunity".

He said: "We need to talk to the HSE and try and understand whether or not they would allow mass gatherings in football stadiums and if they do up to that level of 5,000, that could be a significant breakthrough for us."

But club sources fear that fulfilling demands on health and safety in soccer grounds here post-virus, with or without crowds, would make opening the doors almost impossible.

Senior FAI figures are pushing for a resumption of action behind closed doors in a league funded by live streaming income.

But clubs have major doubts over that plan's feasibility while players grow frustrated with the lack of action, one senior figure noting "cabin fever" among the playing population.

Football's not coming home just yet.