Understandably, due to the current fight against the Coronavirus, the future of amateur football has not been high on many people’s agendas. Since the middle of March, sport at all levels in Ireland has been suspended with the last football match taking place on Saturday March 7th between Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers.
However, the arrival of last week’s statement from the Football Association of Ireland has put the future of football at all levels into the spotlight. Dr. Alan Byrne, Medical Director for the FAI, announced that Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Bohemians will be allowed to return to training on June 8th and will have a behind closed doors tournament as a pilot scheme. Upon the successful completion of the tournament, all other Airtricity League clubs will be allowed to return to training from June 29th.
For this article, we will focus on the announcements which affect amateur and schoolboy football. Teams have been advised not to return to group training until August 10th in conjunction with phase 5 of the Government’s roadmap. Dr. Byrne stated that all club grounds should remain closed for the foreseeable future.
As the Limerick District and Schoolboy Leagues fall into the winter league category, the FAI have advised that any organisation wishing to finish the 2019/2020 season will have to apply to the organisation by June 15th will all relevant paperwork. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Limerick District Members Committee (LDMC) decided to end the 2019/2020 season with immediate effect.
Honorary Secretary Ger Smyth and Chairman Christy O’Dwyer sent an email to all clubs and media outlets to outline the reasons for the cancellation and state plans for the commencement of the 2020/2021 season.
“Having received relevant information from the FAI regards pathway for a safer return to football and also a response from ldl clubs regards their clubs choice in a return to football.
The Limerick District League have now concluded for the safety and wellbeing of all clubs affiliated to the limerick district league season 2019 / 2020 will be classed as cancelled. This applies only to football under the jurisdiction of the Limerick District League.”
The Limerick District League are committed to a safe return to football and under the guidelines of the FAI we would hope to be back by October 16th for season 2020 / 2021. Our committee will be working with the FAI to put in place relevant dates such as registration, transfer windows, and any another information that will be relevant to kick off season 2020 / 2021 your clubs will be kept updated.
To conclude the committee and officers of LDL would like to take this opportunity to wish you, your family, and all your club members a very safe passage in these strange and trying times.”
Continuing the current campaign appeared to be an unrealistic aim from an early stage. Even if a majority of clubs voted in favour of continuing the current campaign, the FAI have allowed just a 5/6 week period to finish and with all clubs having at least 8 league games remaining, it would have been a massive strain to finish the league.
Firstly, even allowing for the fact that divisional cups could be scrapped to accommodate league finishes, I would argue that we did not have the quantity of referees required to run off games in such a short period of time.
Under normal circumstances, matches in certain divisions do not take place every weekend as we do not have the capacity to successfully officiate that many games. It would have been a huge ask for our current group of officials to consistently turn out in that six-week period and it did not seem plausible.
Also, we must consider how rushing the conclusion of a campaign would affect the following season. It would allow just one week for players to join new teams in time for the 2020/2021 season.
While many will argue that players transfer between clubs all too frequently in Limerick at the drop of hat and for the most part, I agree with that, it is a reality that this will happen and will put a huge strain on clubs in terms of planning.
Not to mention, it would affect the motives of the player while playing for his current club. In an unprecedented event, you were asking players to play for a team for a year and a half effectively, and judging by the loyalty levels shown in recent years, it is a demand that was never going to be met with any great enthusiasm.
Of course, there will be victims arising from a decision to cancel the 2019/2020 season. You only have to look at Fairview Rangers. They remained in FIVE competitions including the Premier Division race and the FAI and Munster Junior Cups.
The club have missed out on a massive opportunity to dominate locally. They may not have the same squad at their disposal next season and even if they do, it is hard to replicate the form shown in a previous season.
Although all local competitions are cancelled, both Fairview Rangers and Aisling Annacotty will be happy to hear that they will have the opportunity to win the FAI Junior Cup and Munster Junior Cup with the Fairgreen outfit involved in both. Both competitions will be completed before the beginning of the 2020/2021 season.
Further down the line, I can speak from experience as my own club, Division 1A side Castle Rovers were top of our own league.
With a move to a new pitch on the horizon, it would have been great to play at a higher level in the club’s first season there. There is no saying that promotion would have been a certainty, but obviously it would have been great to have the opportunity.
However, all things considered, we must realise that we are amateur players playing in an amateur league and when social distancing is going to be such a big part of our lives for the rest of the year and possibly longer, returning to soccer earlier is definitely the least of our worries. Unfortunately, we are living through extraordinary times and as a result, unprecedented decisions had to be made.
Meanwhile, the Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland have cancelled the annual Kennedy Cup competition for the first time since its debut in 1976. The tournament is a weeklong intercounty event which takes place at the University of Limerick for the best under 14 players from all over Ireland to compete.
The Gaynor Cup has also fallen victim to the current circumstances. In a further development, the SFAI have enquired about the possibility of returning to action on the weekend of the 5/6th of September when schools are set to re-open.