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Long relief at Cheltenham deal as Gibson released by Salford

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Darron Gibson has become the first high-profile Irish casualty of the financial impact of Covid-19. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Darron Gibson has become the first high-profile Irish casualty of the financial impact of Covid-19. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Darron Gibson has become the first high-profile Irish casualty of the financial impact of Covid-19. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

As uncertainty hangs like a grim cloud over a number of his compatriots, former Ireland international Darron Gibson has become the first high-profile Irish casualty of the financial impact of Covid-19 as he was one of 10 players released by fourth-tier side Salford City.

Playing in the same division, Dubliner Seán Long at least has the comfort of another 12 months on his contract with Cheltenham Town but that's the only certainty, as even though his side are due to play in the promotion play-offs in League Two at some stage next month, he's unsure if he will kick a ball again this season.

"Everyone wants to play again this year but no one knows if the clubs in Leagues One and Two have the finances to make it happen. They will need help from the Premier League for that to happen. We do want to get back but only when it's safe," Long said last night from his Dublin base.

Last week League Two clubs voted to finish their season which would allow three teams (Crewe, Swindon and Plymouth) get automatic promotion, have four teams in a play-off (Cheltenham, Exeter, Colchester and Northampton), and no relegation, thus saving Stevenage from the drop into non-league.

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But the Championship and League One have yet to decide on how they will finish their seasons, players have no set date for training or matches, and as English football scrutinies the German model following the Bundesliga's restart, those in the lower leagues have doubts.

"It's only the League Two clubs who have voted on it, no one else has approved it yet so we're in the dark. We haven't been given a specific date to go back training but the earliest anyone can go back is next Monday. But there are a lot of questions still to be answered. League Two has made a call but the Championship and League One have to mirror that if you are to have promotion and relegation," says Long.

"I renewed my contract earlier this season so I have next year as well, that's a big relief as I know a lot of players who are not in a great situation, we're still getting paid but a lot of players have only a few weeks left of their contracts. We're still being paid under the government furlough scheme but that can only go on for so long if there are no fans coming in through the gates.

"Cheltenham are a well-run club but if this goes on for months and months I don't think any club in our division will be financially strong enough to carry on.

"I can't see fans being at games again until there is a vaccine as it wouldn't be safe and we can see from the Bundesliga over the weekend, when football does come back it will be very different. They are trying to come up with a plan for us to go back training safely, whether that's possible due to the financial cost we don't know, no one knows."

Former Reading trainee Long (25) is now in his 11th week of inactivity, as his club's last game was in early March, and once he realised the lockdown was going to be a long one, he packed a bag and headed back to the family home in Clondalkin, where he's currently based and awaiting a recall to England. "Other players had family over there but I was on my own, it made sense to get back to Dublin, have my own family around me," he says, though he has no plans to move home.

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"I'm not worried about the future, at the moment it's hard to see light at the end of the tunnel but once there is a vaccine things will get back to normal but I'm not in the mindset to come home to Dublin permanently."


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