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FAI tries to get LOI clubs on the same page

It mightn't be overstating it that today is a pivotal day for the League of Ireland which could affect game here for a decade

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Dundalk manager Vinnie Perth gets his temperature taken

Dundalk manager Vinnie Perth gets his temperature taken

SPORTSFILE

Dundalk manager Vinnie Perth gets his temperature taken

To some members of the football community in Ireland, the meetings which the FAI preside over today could shape the next decade for the game in this country.

Others are taking the stance that speaking in those terms is an exaggeration. But it's clear there's plenty at stake with the FAI top brass set to present the package which they hope will convince clubs to come back and avoid the rancour of a lost year.  At the top end of the table, the fear is that a failure to resume the 2020 season will send pros to the dole, trigger contract disputes and set back plans to develop an industry here.

The alternative viewpoint is that rushing back could put the fate of individual clubs at risk - teams which are already struggling to compete. 

By all accounts, the Abbotstown hierarchy have been busy over the past few days, which suggests there will be a last-minute element to what they present to clubs in conference calls across the day. Clubs will ask for time to consider their response.

How soon will this be resolved? 

UEFA hold a meeting with members next Wednesday and they need to know the state of play with the leagues around Europe before then . It helps that the FAI have already confirmed their European participants for the next UEFA club season, which remains an issue for the winter leagues, but they are the only summer league without a firm plan. UEFA may not need all the details next week, yet they will want to know if there's an agreement in principle.

Why the hold-up?

Put simply, several clubs have yet to be convinced that it's worth coming back to play. The FAI had floated a behind-closed-doors return in August with fixtures at neutral venues for the remainder of a season cut from 36 to 18 games with Abbotstown covering the cost of Covid-19 testing. It was hoped that a combination of a compensation deal, the retention of the Government wage subsidy, income from streaming games, the possibility of external support from FIFA/UEFA and perhaps even a pay deal with players would make it palatable but clubs weren't satisfied with the provisional amounts discussed.

What's on the table now?

That's what we are waiting on. The picture has been altered by the loosening of health restrictions, but it remains to be seen how that can be reflected in concrete proposals. While the prospect of supporters in stadiums in 2020 seemed unlikely last month, it's more plausible now. FIFA's Gianni Infantino also confirmed relief will be available for lower-tier leagues, although it was unspecified.

The FAI have already drawn down advance funds from UEFA due to their well-publicised cash problems, yet sources feel a call would be made to the European authorities if this was really tight.

A figure of around €800k had been floated for testing, yet that was calculated when it appeared Government regulations were going to be stricter. 

What's the split within the clubs?

The First Division sides seem united; their wage bills are smaller so there seems to be a willingness to return once it's safe. At Premier level, the four European qualifiers and Shelbourne have continued to pay players so they would like to get back. Finn Harps, Sligo Rovers, St Patrick's Athletic, Cork City and Waterford have to be convinced.

Are they singing from same hymn sheet?

They appear to be aiming to stick together, but Waterford's position is worrying because it's unclear where their owner Lee Power stands due to issues at Swindon and there's a view in the upper echelons of the league that this problem - concerning as it is - shouldn't hold everyone back.

There is no doubt that the ability to host games with a restricted number of spectators would allay key fears of the other regional clubs.  

Yet another angle is that the prospect of a team being relegated after just 18 games will be a bone of contention, so a compromise on this may be sought if all teams opt to come back.

There is now a growing view that a 27-game Premier should be presented as a scenario even if it means midweek games to facilitate a December finish.