For pretty much every Dundalk player, staff member and supporter, the decision to postpone last Friday’s game at home to St Patrick’s Athletic was a huge blow.
For some time now a trip to Oriel Park has been a release to get away from life’s worries but the threat of the spread of the Coronavirus means there will be little or no sport played until early April at best with this Friday’s trip to face Bohemians in Dalymount Park and the following week’s clash against Waterford FC already definitely off.
While everyone is sorry to see a season that was just getting going halted in its infancy, the current shutdown has proved a particular headache for Dundalk captain Brian Gartland.
While the centre half is very much in favour of people following the Government and HSE instructions to protect themselves and their loved ones, the unprecedented situation thrown up by the spread of Covid-19 has impacted him in more ways than one.
While his day to day job with Dundalk FC is on hold, the current situation has also led to him temporarily shutting down two of his other business ventures. His basketball coaching business had already been halted before schools were closed on Friday while his latest venture, The Recovery Room in Abbotstown, had only just opened when it was forced to close its doors at the weekend.
Given all that you can see why he is glad of being at a club with the kind of security that Dundalk FC offers.
Speaking about his situation, Brian said: “I’ve just set up a business and opened the doors last weekend. Saturday, Sunday and Monday were brilliant and then it just stopped and I had no one in so I’ve had to shut the place.
“Part of it means you’re cursing your luck but at the same time you can’t do anything. I need to just see what happens when this blows over but it does tend to come all at once when you factor in a couple of other untimely situations at home but at the same time I could be worse off so we just have to deal with it.”
Had the League of Ireland gone ahead last weekend, it would have benefitted Brian in more ways than just the possibility of being involved for the club he has represented now for almost seven years.
“I had three teams booked in for Saturday morning and a few other bookings as well. There were a couple of Dublin GAA players booked in as well and I had been building up a little database of people coming in but it’s just all on hold now. That’s the least important thing at the minute though.”
The one plus side is that he is at the most financially of stable clubs in Dundalk, who will continue to pay wages during the current downtime in the league.
“It’s my saving grace now because with the situation I’m in right now with outside stuff, I’m more vulnerable than I’ve ever been just because of putting investment into the new business and Bronagh on unpaid maternity leave but at least I can take a bit of security from the fact that I’m at a solid club who do things right,” said Brian.
“It’s nice to have that bit of security behind you in these uncertain times.”
By his own admission, Brian has become a “bit of a nerd” in reading up on Coronavirus in recent weeks and feels the current measures taken by the Government to effectively close the country down is the correct method to take.
“I suppose like anything you hope for the best and plan for the worst and that’s what we’ve seen. I was happy to see our Government’s actions the other day with social distancing and closing the schools and everything and hopefully that is effective. People might say in the end that it was too severe but it’s better to be too severe than under severe and then regret it.”
While the Dundalk squad are among the fittest of men in the country, he says it is only right that players do their own training at home right now given the risk to those they come in contact with.
“The experts in the field are learning as they go so it’s still a bit of an unknown going forward but from our point of view as footballers nobody is immune to this.
“You might be fit and healthy and we might get it and it might be just like a flu or fever but it’s also who you affect and what connection on the chain do you affect if you keep acting as normal. That’s not just for us to consider, it’s everyone, but we’ve four lads at the minute whose partners are pregnant so there is worry with them.
“There’s a few lads who have people at home who are bad asthmatics. There’s even a few players who are asthmatic. You don’t know the half of it either because every family has some kind of health scare or recent health issue that they might be going through. You never know what is going on behind closed doors. There was a lot of concern among players but our concerns were aired and the right decision was made to take the weekend off.
“If it comes to it we can work from home and do our own stuff but I think it’s just a case of wait and see on it.”
Unfortunately Brian feels that the current league stoppage until the end of March will proceed much longer.
“I don’t like to be pessimistic, I’d hope we would be back as soon as possible but I can see this going on a good while just to slow and steady the rate.
“Behind closed doors wasn’t an option for the league here. You might say there’s an opportunity for a streaming service and if it had gone ahead behind closed doors you might have had a lot of people willing to buy it because there is no sport on telly but also you’re playing in a lot of dilapidated stadiums with no crowds so are you doing the product a favour then?
“There are different ways to look at it but gate receipts are a big thing for so many clubs. We’re lucky at Dundalk that they’re not as important as elsewhere but we still need those gate receipts for the club to run.
“The PFAI, the FAI and the NLEC are going to contact the Government and UEFA to see what can be done whether that be interest free loans to clubs or what. UEFA are usually very good at that and understanding and in the grand scheme of things our league is small money compared to the money that would be needed to tide clubs over elsewhere. You’d hope we will be okay in that way but the uncertainty is scary. Being at Dundalk though does give you that little bit more reassurance.”
For now Brian has just urged that everyone play their part to ensure whenever normality does return, there is more reason to celebrate than just results on the field.
“Community is responsible for stopping the spread of this now and we just have to help out in doing our own bit.”