Alan Cawley: Four-team tournament won’t suit everyone, but it’s a start

The FAI have unveiled their proposal for a competition that will act as a pilot scheme for the return of the domestic league.

League-of-Ireland---Shamrock-Rovers-v-Dundalk

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Last weekend saw the resumption of top-flight football in Europe with the return of the Bundesliga. In Ireland, the FAI unveiled their proposal for a four-team tournament which will act as a pilot scheme for the return of the domestic league. The four teams invited are Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City. Those four teams are the league’s representatives in European football this summer and it is hoped the mini-tournament will help them prepare for that.

It is a first step towards getting football back up and running and to be fair to the FAI, and from knowing Dr Alan Byrne, they would have checked all the safety angles and they wouldn’t have proposed running this tournament unless they received the green light from the relevant health authorities. The fact that they are talking about holding it in the Aviva Stadium will certainly help with the league’s image, but my worry would be about how you branch all that out to grounds around the country.

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They are also talking about having hubs around the country when football returns, but I’m not so sure about that either. The main criticism of this proposal will come from the clubs not invited into the tournament, and they have some legitimate complaints. They quite rightly feel aggrieved that they will be at an unfair advantage when the league does resume. The four teams invited are allowed return to training on the 8th of June, yet all the other teams are not allowed return till the 29th of June. That’s a good three weeks training, and that will be a big advantage those four teams will have.

To be fair to the FAI, they are trying to come up with solutions to this huge challenge. And while I feel for the clubs not invited, the clubs who have been, are entitled to push on and get themselves the best preparation. These European games are crucial. The money at stake is colossal in League of Ireland terms. Just getting through one round is extremely lucrative for the clubs. And as they will more than likely be held behind closed doors, progress is probably more important then ever as they will be missing out on a bumper home gate. A lot of course depends on UEFA and their plans for these qualifiers. A lot of leagues around Europe still haven’t finished and there is a lot of uncertainty out there regarding that aspect too. We are expecting an announcement on June 17th so it’s very important that we prepare our clubs as best as possible for whenever the qualifiers start.

So, while I understand the frustration of the teams not invited you are not going to please everyone because of the situation we find ourselves in. There will have to be sacrifices from teams and clubs around the country if we are to get football back. We have got to start somewhere. You will always have criticism from some quarters. We saw that with the return of the Bundesliga at the weekend. People saying it’s not the same without fans and that there was no buzz in the ground. We all know that. Football will never be the same without fans. But we have got to get the show back on the road somehow.

As I mentioned previously, you might think it’s tough now. But if we were to write off this season totally, the problems you would face down the line in terms of trying to resurrect this league would be catastrophic. If you were to open that can of worms you’d have major problems, including players coming back to the clubs looking for the money they were owed on their contracts. It would be an absolute mess, and it could be a bridge too far for some clubs to come back from. So that’s why I think that it is imperative that we try and get football back in some shape or form. And if that means this four-team tournament kicking it all off, then we will just have to run with it.

The other big thing that the return of football hinges on is this financial package that they are talking about. The clubs will have to be compensated in some way for what they are losing out on gate receipts. Most clubs are heavily dependent on gate receipts and must be compensated if they are to proceed forward with the league.

But there will have to be a start made somewhere. We cannot please everyone. All the teams have their own issues, some are full-time and some are part-time and they all have their own interests. But everyone is losing money, so we must get back to playing football. We probably won’t get a full season so playing half the fixtures looks most likely. We’ve only played five games so that would mean playing another 13 league games. Teams at the bottom like Cork and Sligo might be a bit peeved at that, with having so little time to try and save themselves. But as I said previously, we also have time on our side, so there is scope to play deep into the winter if the will is there to try and finish as much of the season as possible.

So, while this proposal from the FAI is not going to please everyone, it at least offers a glimmer of light at the end of this dark footballing tunnel. I think that is something all football fans should be happy about.

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