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Explainer: What happens now after LOI players complete first Covid-19 tests

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Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne was among the players yesterday to be tested for Covid-19 as part of the FAI’s pilot programme. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne was among the players yesterday to be tested for Covid-19 as part of the FAI’s pilot programme. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne was among the players yesterday to be tested for Covid-19 as part of the FAI’s pilot programme. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The players of Bohemians, Derry City, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers were able to return to their workplace yesterday.

But it was only for a flying visit.

Squads and staff of the League of Ireland's four European representatives underwent Covid-19 testing as part of the FAI's pilot programme that is intended to pave the way for a return to play.

The other team sports will be monitoring developments with interest.

What happened yesterday?

Players and managements at the clubs turned up for scheduled appointments at selected points around their club's stadium or training base to be tested by a company that has been commissioned to carry out the job. They were each given specific times to turn up so there was no group interaction. Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne said: "We just got a little swab taken at the back of our throat and I think it was done in less than 20 seconds."

What's the plan now?

Test results are expected on Wednesday or Thursday and another round of tests is scheduled before the players at these clubs are due to return to training on June 8. The plan is for these four clubs to participate in a tournament on July 20 which will effectively function as an experiment to see how behind-closed-doors games can function. It's believed that players at the top four will have been tested 12 times by that point.

What happens if there are positive tests?

This would naturally be a worry but it would depend on the volume and examples of other leagues suggest that those individuals would then be asked to isolate. Given that the players haven't been congregating together, it would be no reason to divert from the strategy unless there was an eye-opening amount.

What about the other clubs?

They have been told they can train collectively from June 29 with a programme of regular testing tied in with that but this is all dependent on whether there is actual agreement on a League of Ireland return. As it stands, the FAI have to present these clubs with a financial package that convinces the majority that it's worth coming back. At this juncture, UEFA are telling clubs that have qualified for their competitions to expect games in late summer so there is a target. The idea here is that the tournament would help them gear up for that but there's every chance the European schedule will be amended or curtailed. 

Who is paying for the tests?

The FAI have told clubs that the cost of the Covid-19 tests will be covered so it won't be an extra burden for those struggling to make ends meet and worried about the prospect of games without spectators. Each club must appoint a Covid-19 officer to oversee guidelines with each club still charged with ensuring that relevant distancing and public health advice are respected around any gatherings.

Who is in charge of the programme?

The FAI's medical director Dr Alan Byrne is heading this project up and he's also a member of the Government's Return to Sport expert group which is tasked with looking at a route back to the pitch in all codes. 

"We must take slow and deliberate steps in this Covid-19 pandemic and testing of these four squads is crucial as we look to deliver this pathway to a safer return to football for all elements of our game," he said.

"Everything we do now is designed to ensure that football can return for everyone as soon as it is safe and responsible. We owe that to all our players, from the elite players in the League of Ireland to the schoolboys and schoolgirls who want to get back on the pitch with their clubs but their health and safety must come first. This is the first step and a significant step in that process."

Does he have the final say on a comeback?

It's not really going to work that way. The FAI's statement on the first round of tests asserted that they will "continue to work with Government departments and the HSE" and that "all decisions on a safer return will be made in conjunction with the State agencies and will be dependent on their approval".

At professional level, the discussion about the practicalities of resuming play will continue from today but if these tests run smoothly and deliver encouraging news then it may allay some fears that exist.

Irish Independent