Dundalk FC goalkeeper Gary Rogers with John Gill and Alan Reynolds, members of the management, at a training session last week. (Pic: Sportsfile)
The delay around the League of Ireland’s return is “the big annoyance” for players, says PFAI chairman - and Dundalk FC goalkeeper - Gary Rogers.
Plans are still to be finalised which will allow competitive football to resume on July 31 as clubs remain at odds over both the format the disrupted campaign should take and whether relegation from the Premier Division is viable.
It would seem likely that demotion will be in play for an 18-game league, five matches of which have, of course, already taken place. And while the half the original schedule model isn’t ideal, Rogers admits, it’s a price worth paying to get the divisions back underway.
“We could be playing football had things been done faster,” Rogers told The Democrat, his frustration apparent.
“Football is being played all over Europe and we’re still trying to make our minds up.
“The ideal scenario would be to play the league that we set out to play at the beginning of the season, although that’s obviously not going to be the case. I do feel that even three rounds of games (27 matches) would be a better route in terms of calling a league.
“My personal opinion is that 18 games, with 13 games remaining, is a bit short. But that’s for the clubs and the governing body to work out; the players don’t really have a say. We did have a meeting last week and the players were adamant that promotion and relegation had to be on the table because in order to have games with a purpose, you do need to have that incentive of promotion and the opposite, relegation, as well.”
The Meathman added: “I think clubs should play into early September and then tag on another round. You’ll then have an off-season pretty similar to the one we have. We’ve already got the longest off-season in Europe with the exception of Finland, so there is space at the end of our calendar to fit in extra games.
“With the 18-game scenario, it’s due to finish at the end of October, there’s no reason you couldn’t have the remaining weeks of October, November and early December to play another round of matches - and we do know that supporters will be able to go to games, 500 initially, which is extra revenue and then there’s revenue to be counted around the streaming service that will be in place.”
There is, it’s evident, dissension from some clubs to the proposals, not from the players, though, Rogers insists.
“Clubs’ futures are up in the air as it is. You have to return to football and in fairness to the FAI, they’ve put a financial package on the table and I know it’s taken a bit of time, but it’s there to supplement clubs and pay the wages between now and the end of the season.
“They’ve been relatively happy with the financial package, we’ve been led to believe, over the last week or so, so now you’ve got a situation where clubs have the money to pay wages but they don’t want the risk of going down.
“It’s finely balanced but I think the FAI has said that teams that aren’t willing to come back will be relegated, so they’ve stamped their authority on it to a certain degree. There’s still plenty of points to play for, whether there’s 13 or 14 games, and while I may think it should be longer, this is what clubs are deciding. When you’ve 19 clubs trying to decide, no wonder it’s a long process.
“But the players’ messages are not really mixed and it’s five or six weeks ago at this stage since the players voted unanimously in favour of returning to play. I know the circumstances have since changed but the fact that during the pandemic the players were still looking to return to training and playing, and now we’re really no further down the line in terms of resumption dates…
“Although we’re back training at our club and other clubs are back training, there are still some cases where clubs are not back training because they haven’t got a definite start date. We’re lucky that we’ve got European football to look forward to and we know that that’s going to happen in early- or mid-August, so we’re working towards that, but it would be nice to get some league football under our belt before we head into European competition.”