Dundalk FC could face the prospect of playing home Europa League matches at neutral venues outside of Ireland if the country enters Level 5 lockdown in the coming weeks.
Concern about the club’s forthcoming Europa League matches against Molde, Arsenal and Rapid Wien grew on Sunday night after it emerged that NPHET had recommended to the Government to put the whole country on Level 5 restrictions to halt the increasing number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.
While this has been avoided for now, under Level 5 restrictions all sport would be stopped with group training also not allowed.
While that would have implications for the domestic league, it could also lead to huge problems for Filippo Giovagnoli’s side ahead of their Group B campaign, where games are due to take place in the Aviva Stadium.
Dundalk chief operating officer Martin Connolly told The Argus on Monday morning that moving to Level 5 could have many possible ramifications for the club with regards to Europe but said they were in ‘wait and see’ mode at the moment in the hope the worst wouldn’t come to pass.
“It would possibly mean we would need to look at neutral venues or it could also possibly mean that we look to play all the games away from home first in the hope that if Level 5 was only here for a short space of time then you could then play at home but we can’t say anything really until it is announced.
“You can’t jump the gun because you don’t want to be going to UEFA and saying we got that wrong and we need to ask you for something else. All we can do is wait and see what happens.
“There’s nothing really that anybody can do at the moment and any case that we make will probably be in line with the rugby and GAA as well because they seem to have a lot of political clout.
“We’ll wait and see what direction that goes but I have been talking to the FAI this morning already about it because it will affect their international football as well and it’ll be at the same level as that.”
Asked had any possible locations for neutral venues been identified, Connolly said: “You can’t pick them. UEFA tells you what the neutral venues are. That’s the reason why Hungary was picked for the Celje game because it was off a list that UEFA provide you with.
“It would be a nightmare to have to do that but there are bigger worries.
“We’ve learned around here in the last couple of months that you just try to deal with things as they happen the best that you can. You can’t try to anticipate it and try to work it out. There’s just no point.”
Asked was there any possibility of Dundalk having to forfeit matches in a worst case scenario, Connolly said: “I’m not even thinking about that at the moment.
“We just have to play it by ear and see what happens over the next few hours, days, weeks or months because let’s be honest about it, anything can happen. We just don’t know but that is the way it has been for the last eight months for everyone in general life.
“We can’t deal with anything until we know what we’re dealing with.”
Connolly said he believed a case would be made for elite sports to be allowed to continue in the event of Level 5 restrictions being introduced.
“The plan would be that we’d make a case for elite sports to continue. We feel we can do this because of the testing regime that we have in place.”
On what would happen the SSE Airtricity League, he said: “I had a brief discussion this morning with someone because I’m on the NLEC, the committee who runs the league, and they’re going to do everything in their power to keep it going until they know they can’t.”
Connolly described the grouping with Arsenal, Rapid Wien and Molde as a “great draw” for the club but said there could be issues with travel home from both Austria and Norway.
“It was a great draw for us from a lot of aspects. It’s not the worst travelling wise but the only problem I can envisage at the moment with travel is that Molde airport and Vienna airport close at 10pm so it will be difficult to get back after the game. That might mean we have to travel a wee bit to get back via another airport if you wanted to get home straight after the game.
“That’s the only problem I can see at the moment because you’re only talking about two hour flights and London is a hop, skip and a jump,” he said.