Dundalk FC boss Vinny Perth hopes to have his side back training at Oriel Park when the first phase of lockdown is lifted in just under a fortnight’s time on May 18th.
Speaking to The Argus on Saturday, less than 24 hours after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar unveiled the nation’s plan to exit the current restrictions in place due to Covid-19, the 43-year-old said it was his hope that players could return to training in “small clusters” in order to ensure social distancing.
Perth is now working on a proposal document which will be put forward to both the FAI and HSE for approval so that the squad can train collectively together – albeit in small groups – for the first time since March 12th.
While others clubs have expressed concern about bringing players back together again, Perth believes Dundalk have the facilities to do so in a safe manner.
“If the HSE are telling us it’s safe to do it then we can do it,” he said.
“Oriel Park is suitable we feel to allow us to train in small clusters while maintaining social distancing. We have a very clear, detailed schedule and timings for our players to be healthy in Oriel Park. We’ve almost two pitches out on the grass, we’ve the main pitch and we’ve indoor pitches so we can quite safely train the likes of say our forwards for an hour and then the next set come in for example. I’ve absolutely no problem with that.
“We’ve also got players living together so if they’re living together then they’re quite capable of training together so we don’t have as many issues as other clubs.
“If other clubs are telling us ‘we can’t do it’ because we haven’t got the correct facilities then I can’t really impact that. My job first and foremost is to protect Dundalk Football Club, our club and our industry and the rest can look after themselves when they can.”
While some clubs aren’t keen to resume football this year, partially due to financial concerns about possibly playing behind closed doors, Perth said it was important that the bottom end of the scale didn’t weigh down an industry that is a large employer as well.
“My only concern isn’t football but I am speaking as a football manager who manages 30-35 people. I’m very understanding that people might be worried about parents or other family members here and there. We don’t want to take any risks but I’m presuming if the Government advice is that we can train in small clusters then our job is to ensure we can train safely without impacting society.
“I’m very conscious of that but ultimately for the next two weeks we remain in lockdown and everyone’s health is the first concern until May 18th when we can do a little bit more.
“First and foremost we’ll go through the FAI but I think we have to understand that what we can do and what some other clubs can do are two different things. We may have to take certain things to the HSE ourselves but we’re working on that.
“From the very early document I’ve seen yesterday I can see that we’re able to meet all the demands from the HSE. We’re confident we can do that.”
He added: “If anyone thinks I’d put any of my players or their families at any sort of a risk then they don’t understand the football club. That’s the first and most important thing for me.”
While Perth hopes his side will be back training soon, he didn’t want to guess when action could resume with the best case scenario now looking like phase four of the Government’s roadmap on July 20th.
“Ultimately that’s a decision from the HSE,” he said when asked when he hoped to be back in action.
“I get asked that on a daily basis even when I’m just out for a walk but I’ve no more information than any other person. We’re guided by the HSE. I have players and staff who have families and the only guidance I’m working on at the moment in terms of managing them is the HSE’s.”
Asked would the proposed return to training step up the club’s pursuit of a new assistant with Ruaidhrí Higgins set to depart for the Republic of Ireland set up, Perth said there had been no movement as yet in that regard.
“We’ve loads of time on that.
“I haven’t had an update from where that stands. It’s out of my hands at the moment but I’ll be well prepared if I need to go down that road,” he said.