Football to re-start with top four League of Ireland competition

As the Irish Government announced on Friday the move next week to Phase one on easing COVID 19 restrictions, the FAI have announced their 'pathway for a safer return to football'.

The League of Ireland clubs and specifically the top four clubs – those set for European action – are to be the first teams to venture down that pathway, step onto the training pitch and then the playing pitch in July. 

The FAI confirmed they are extending the general cessation of football to July 20th. However the SSE Airtricity League clubs and UEFA Women’s Champion’s League representatives, Peamount United, now have a date to work towards for training and playing.

League champions Dundalk, FAI Cup holders Shamrock Rovers, along with Derry City and Bohemians who have also qualifried for Europe, can return to collective training on 8 June. Prior to that from 26 May players and staff from those clubs will undergo regular COVID-19 testing.

This will allow them train and then facilitate them playing a behind closed doors tournament as part of a pilot programme. Those games will be played at a neutral venue, ahead of their European club competition games which are expected at this stage to take place in late July or early August.

The FAI noted that “the four-team tournament will provide all stakeholders with an opportunity to learn in the current environment from these games, thus providing a safer template for SSE Airtricity League, International games and all football going forward.”

Meanwhile the other League of Ireland clubs can return to collective training on 29 June under Phase Three of the Government’s Roadmap For Reopening Society and Business, with players and staff undergoing regular COVID-19 testing.

Before that the clubs have been advised not to facilitate any organised training, including in groups of up to four, under Phase One of the Government’s Roadmap.

A decision on Peamount United’s return to training will be made once dates are known for the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

The FAI’s statement notes that “the FAI Medical Team will provide a detailed and transparent analysis of the testing results to stakeholders, Government agencies and UEFA on an ongoing basis.”

Dr. Alan Byrne, the FAI’s Medical Director, made the recommendation on re-starting the games beginning he said “with a pilot programme on June 8th for the four SSE Airtricity League teams who have qualified for European football. This will allow us to analyse every step of their journey back to football, beginning with a safe return to training.

“The information we will gather from that pilot programme will be invaluable for all players, at all levels of the game, as we look to establish a safer pathway to a return for all football, one that can be approved by all Government agencies and UEFA. We all want football back in our lives but it is not worth risking one life by rushing to get our game back.” 

The last time the FAI ran a ‘Super Cup’ top four competition was between the period of 1998 and 2001. Shamrock Rovers won that first edition played out in Santry Stadium with Shelbourne winning the last time the competition was run.