Dundalk FC Chief Operating Officer Martin Connolly believes the current stoppage in the SSE Airtricity League to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could lead to a “doomsday” scenario for some clubs unless they are supported by the Government and UEFA.
All League of Ireland games have been suspended until March 29th at least but the suspicion is that this period could be much longer.
Cork City, Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps are among the clubs who have expressed concern over what a lack of match day revenue could mean for their immediate futures and while Dundalk might be cash rich on the back of their Europa League run of 2016, Connolly admitted the challenge was “massive” for everyone.
“It’s a difficult one for the league but I don’t think our league could function in a behind closed doors scenario,” he said.
“I think the suspension of the league was the best option open to the FAI and everybody else.
“That brings about its challenges too. The likes of Sligo Rovers would depend hugely on finance from a match day. We were in Finn Harps last week and they do half-time draws and raffles and all that sort of stuff and if you haven’t got that then there’s a vital cog gone for you.
“The Taskforce that has been put together is going to work on the finances that are going to be missed within the league and Alex O’Connell, who is the financial director of the FAI at the moment, is going to present them to both Government and UEFA at some stage for some sort of funding support.
“That will be vital between clubs surviving and not surviving, make no mistake about it.
“This could be a doomsday scenario for everybody and it’s very worrying,” said the former goalkeeper, who is a member of the National League Executive Committee.
While Dundalk are the wealthiest club in the country and have the backing of US owners PEAK6, that also means they have one of the biggest budgets both on and off the field. In a best case scenario they will go 54 days between their last home game against Cork City on February 24th and their next scheduled match at Oriel Park on April 17th against Shelbourne.
This highlights the challenge presented to all clubs and while the SSE Airtricity League champions have their budget heavily weighted towards progress in Europe, their Champions League campaign this summer could also now be impacted depending on the outcome of a UEFA meeting on Tuesday.
While the outcome of that conference call will be of huge interest to everyone, Connolly said the most important thing right now was the safety of all players, staff and supporters involved in the league.
“UEFA have a handle on that at the moment and they have a conference call on St Patrick’s Day with all federations.
“All competitions will be looked at from Euro 2020 right through to the European competitions. To be fair, as everyone says and I would agree with it, this is a once-in-a-generation problem and nobody knows what is going to happen.
“Here in Dundalk we were impacted by the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001 but this is on another level to that. I think from talking to people within the FAI there was only a total of one or two weeks of games affected back then.
“This is on a different level because nobody knows what is going to happen here and how this is going to go. Even from the Government today, I think March 29th could be an optimistic date and that’s just purely from what they’ve been saying today.”
While Dundalk had originally planned to train on Saturday morning this was cancelled late on Friday night. At the time of writing a decision had yet to be made on how to proceed from next week.
Despite this, all club staff have been advised to work from home for the foreseeable future.
“Our policy at the moment is that those who can work at home are to work at home and that’s what we’re doing,” said Connolly.
“We’ve put in a couple of procedures to protect the staff and that’s the most important thing to do.
“The main concern from our owners and the club is the health and safety of everybody and the bigger picture which isn’t just about sport and football. From a business point of view what happens with UEFA is a big decision but it’s not only a big decision for us. It’s a big decision for everybody and the sport in general so we’ll just have to wait and see what they decide.”
Asked was there ways in which fans could support the club through this difficult period, the COO said “not just at the moment” but added that Dundalk were working on a number of things but would also be looking to support the local community as well if they could.
“We will look at all ideas and concepts going forward and we’ll look at any way we can help the community as well but we want all our supporters and staff to stay safe and if we can play a part in achieving that then we will,” said the 51-year-old.