Dundalk FC Chief Operating Officer Martin Connolly says the club is exploring all options at present to ensure they can get back playing as soon as possible.
While the decision on when the season can restart will ultimately lie elsewhere, Connolly says Dundalk’s priority is to get back playing as soon as possible, providing it is safe to do so.
Last Wednesday the FAI met with the National League Executive Committee, of which Connolly is a member, to draw up a roadmap for the return of SSE Airtricity League football at the earliest opportunity and in line with UEFA, Government and HSE guidelines.
They came up with various options, five of which were as follows:
- A resumption for the SSE Airtricity League behind closed doors on June 19th with the season to end no later than the end of December, a ‘behind closed doors’ policy to operate as long as HSE Guidelines recommend.
- A resumption as planned on June 19th with stadium restrictions in line with HSE Guidelines including ‘behind closed doors’ and reduced capacity at 25% or 50%, the season to run until the end of December.
- A resumption in July or August, based on Government advice and HSE guidelines.
- A deferral of all National League activity until September with a reduced fixture programme season to run until the end of December.
- A resumption of National League football in September with a full fixture programme season to run until the end of February 2021.
While the current return date for the league of June 19th is looking increasingly unlikely, Connolly hinted that it would be Dundalk’s preference to get back on the field at that stage.
“Obviously for us as a club we would prefer if we could get back playing football sooner rather than later but unfortunately it depends on a lot of things that are out of our control.
“Unfortunately what we need to do is going to be dictated to by loads of others from the Government, to the HSE, to public health guidelines, to UEFA, to FIFA and others.
“There are so many things that are out of our hands at the moment and we just have to wait for guidance on it but the problem there is that an awful lot of those groups are waiting for the same sort of guidance and guidelines on how they’re going to do it.”
While some League of Ireland clubs are opposed to the idea of playing behind closed doors or with reduced capacities due to the financial implications of losing gate receipt and other match day revenues, Connolly says streaming games behind closed doors is something that Dundalk would be happy to explore if they had to.
“I’m not in a situation where I want to rule anything in or rule anything out and I agree with the FAI and Gary Owens when he says that we should look at everything.
“I think streaming is possible and I think it would be of great interest to people if there were no other alternatives. People would probably climb to the top of a mountain at the moment to watch a game of football so I think there is an opportunity there to see how it works and I think we would be foolish not to look at that at the moment.
“Every opportunity that we need to look at we should be looking at and that’s exactly what we’re doing at the moment.
“What we’re doing at the moment is we’re gathering data to see the projected losses if you open to an empty stadium, a 50%-filled stadium and a 25%-filled stadium. It’s also being factored in what the estimated cost is then to host those games behind closed doors but we don’t know what the Government or the HSE are going to ask us to have in place in order to play them.
“If they say you can open your doors and have 50% of capacity and say this is what you need to meet that standard then we need to look at the possible earnings from streaming.
“Is it in the club’s interest that we do all those things? At the moment all we’re doing is collecting that sort of data and looking at where any possible funding could come from from doing that.
“I wouldn’t go as far to say that it’s different for Dundalk because we’re financially well off. I’d go as far as to say our business is professional football and so it makes sense that that is what we want to get back to.
“Other clubs within our league are in different places and are part-time etc. I have the utmost respect for the likes of Sligo Rovers, Finn Harps and all these other clubs who depend on fundraising because we were that animal before and I know exactly what it takes and the hard work that goes into it. In a crisis like this, we’re just in a different place than they are,” he said.
One slight concern for Dundalk is the possibility of European matches returning before the domestic league.
“We’re being given options to start our league in September by the FAI but we’re being told in the same conversation that our UEFA game could be at the end of July. How do we do that?,” asked Martin.
“That could mean we play a UEFA game at the end of July but we’re stopped until September and we haven’t played a league game since March. How do you do those things? Then the HSE could say you can’t train because there’s still a ban on training as a group. Where do you play your European games too if there’s a ban on travel? It’s just crazy at the moment.
“Having said that I believe that UEFA’s main concern at the moment is to get the UEFA and domestic competitions complete for 2019/2020. I really think until they get until the final stages of the 2019/2020 competition then they’re not going to worry too much about the 2020/2021 season.
“It’s just such an uncertain time. You look at plans they have in Germany to get back playing and there’s talk about the Premier League going back training etc but the best laid plans could be thrown out the door within an hour of the kick off of a game the way this is going because nobody knows where this is going.
“All we can do is plan, look and investigate and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re looking at a couple of options for all scenarios,” he said.