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St Pat's boss O'Donnell calls for 'one rule for all clubs' on training as Sligo and Harps join shutdown

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Stephen O’Donnell says St Pat’s will discuss the plans over the weekend. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Stephen O’Donnell says St Pat’s will discuss the plans over the weekend. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Stephen O’Donnell says St Pat’s will discuss the plans over the weekend. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Some League of Ireland clubs will ignore the advice from the FAI's medical director to ban collective training, despite a nationwide lockdown of sporting activity.

Meanwhile, clubs will discover next week if UEFA will contribute to a fund for financial aid as outfits try to survive without gate receipts and other match-day revenue during the Covid-19 crisis.

Sligo Rovers boss Liam Buckley has admitted that his club will need assistance to cope with the lack of ticket sales with a club statement saying they have been "seriously affected by the two-week shutdown of sporting activities, which is a necessary measure in the public interest.".

His chairman Tommy Higgins added: “This is a problem way beyond football and the timelines for resumption of football activities are uncertain, and it could be many weeks away.

“The board are actively reviewing an ever-changing situation and in constant contact with the FAI and other stakeholders.”

Club treasurer David Rowe said: “We have a short period of time we can survive financially.

“Urgent action is needed, we cannot operate on full costs and little or no income for very long.

“We recognise too that our highly supportive football community have their own additional challenges in business, in employment and in their own lives.”

On Thursday, the FAI confirmed "the cessation of all football under its jurisdiction" and matches at all levels were called off, leading to the cancellation of three rounds of games, at least, in the SSE Airtricity League, though an extension of the closure is expected.

Matches were not banned outright under the terms of the nationwide lockdown - outdoor gatherings of fewer than 500 people were permitted - and some clubs had expressed an interest in playing games behind closed doors, though this was rejected.

The FAI statement did not mention training, even though other sporting bodies were clear on the issue: the GAA and GPA both reminded inter-county managers that collective training was banned. In rugby, Munster and Leinster had planned to carry on training but the IRFU have stepped in to counter that and ordered them to halt.

Advised

A letter to the FAI and clubs from Dr Alan Byrne, doctor with the Ireland senior team and the FAI's medical director, strongly advised that clubs ban training in groups.

"Clubs should not engage in collective training during the cessation of football activity," he said in a letter to the six-strong task force which is overseeing Irish football's response to the Covid-19 crisis.

But because it was advice and not a direct order, clubs felt they retained the right to carry on training in groups. Shamrock Rovers trained yesterday and Dundalk had plans to train today but decided to postpone any activity. Waterford FC, Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers have said they will not train.

"There is no decision for me, there will be no collective training with us for the cessation period," Buckley said last night. "We won't be training until March 29, or further than that if required.

"We spoke to our players on Friday morning, we can't risk causing the spread of something through football.

"To me, there is no debate on this. There is a bigger picture than winning football matches."

Waterford took the same stance. "I met with our club doctor Sinéad Fitzpatrick to discuss the potential impact on player (and club officials) safety," manager Alan Reynolds said in a statement yesterday.

"After discussing this and taking on board the information from the FAI medical officer Alan Byrne, the decision has been made to suspend all training immediately for 12 days."

St Patrick's Athletic boss Stephen O'Donnell last night said his club would decide over the weekend but he stressed the need for a collective view. The National League Executive Committee which represents all League of Ireland clubs will be meeting with the FAI on Monday.

"At the minute it's a club prerogative," O'Donnell said.

"There has been advice but no clear directive. We have to think about it as a club, as a coaching staff over the weekend and see where we go.

"But there has to be one rule for all clubs, you can't have one team training for two weeks and another team not training, one team will clearly have an advantage when the league resumes.

"We will take our decision based on the health and safety of our players and their families, that has to be paramount."

St Pat's will feel the financial pinch from the lockdown more than most as they had three home games scheduled for this month. "Of course it's an issue for us," O'Donnell added.

"Every club in Ireland has to be worried, even the big clubs don't have an endless pit of money and the longer it goes on the more you are concerned, it's the same worry for every business in the country."

Buckley is hoping for financial aid to plug the gap. "From a cash-flow point of view, you will be stretched if you have no home games, all the clubs will be stretched bar the top two," he said.

"We don't have any home games until told otherwise and it will be a burden, we need that cash-flow. We are a community-based club, we don't have a benefactor to bail us out."

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