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'Missing out on possible promotion not a tragedy, people losing loved ones is'

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WAITING GAME: Ireland’s Darragh Lenihan (r) and Shaun Williams. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

WAITING GAME: Ireland’s Darragh Lenihan (r) and Shaun Williams. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

WAITING GAME: Ireland’s Darragh Lenihan (r) and Shaun Williams. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

For them, the Premier League has never been as close, or as far away.

As people grapple with the implications of life in a Covid-19 world, talk about football, points and promotion seems to be insensitive and irrelevant.

Irish footballers living in England have the added worry and confusion of effectively residing in two worlds: their daily life across the water where Boris Johnson's government's approach seems to be a mixture of the Blitz spirit and wishing it all away, and the stories they hear from family and friends back home in Ireland, where the reaction to Covid-19 is oh so different.

"I did the school run the other morning over here, and I hear from family in Dublin that all the kids are off school," says Williams Shaun Williams, an Ireland international lining out for a Millwall side whose current form - the form before Covid-19 stopped their league - may have been good enough to push them into the promotion playoffs in the Championship and, possibly for the first time in his career, a crack at the Premier League.

"What happens if I miss out on that? Nothing, you just have to suck it up, other things are more important. And It's hard to understand the different approaches and the Irish government seem to be dealing with it better, it's odd that Cheltenham went ahead last week but all the GAA, all the matches in the League of Ireland are off.

Unknown

"It's the unknown that's hard to deal with," says Williams. "The talk is that games will resume in April but no one really knows. We don't think it will be back that early, but no one can say for definite. Maybe they could have carried on the league for another week, with games behind closed doors, but the way we are now, we're all in the dark."

Blackburn defender Darragh Lenihan also hears the mixed messages. "From what I hear back home, they are doing things right, but the numbers here in England are only going to grow," he says. "They would be better off doing what Ireland has done, people back home can be proud of how they have handled it."

The players and staff at Williams' club were all tested last Friday, they have had some time off but were due back training today. They had been given a personal training plan, working off an app, to keep fit. "We record what we do every day on the app, I went for a run the other day, just 5k out on the road and the local park, I didn't work with anyone else," says Williams.

Williams expects to go back training today but Blackburn's squad have been told to prepare for time away. "We were due to be in on Wednesday but on Tuesday we got a message from the manager to say that this week was off," says Darragh Lenihan.

"And the problem is the unknown, you don't know how long you'll be off for, we could be told a week and that could turn into a month. We are down to play Leeds on Friday April 3 but who's to say that will go ahead?

"We don't know if the season will finish at all. But it's not just us footballers, this is across the board. There are more important things than football."

Much of the talk about how football can deal with the season's interruption focused on the Premier League.

One idea was to protect the clubs in danger of relegation, and also those in line for promotion, by having an expanded Premier League for next season, no relegation and allow Leeds and West Brom, clear in the automatic promotion places, a golden ticket to the top flight, forcing those in the playoffs to miss out.

Right now it's Fulham, Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Preston in the playoff places, but within touching distance are a number of clubs, including Millwall and Blackburn.

"There are two issues here," says Williams. "You have football on one side and safety on the other, and health has to take precedence, first you look after yourself and your family.

"Of course, this will impact promotion and relegation and it could cost us, we are on a good run at the moment and if we kept that up I'd back us to make the playoffs and after that, who knows? So this could be our chance to make it into the Premier League and whatever happens, this break will have slowed momentum."

This is Lenihan's sixth season in the first team at Blackurn and never have they been as close to promotion so he can see the cost of the season being just shut down.

Tragedy

"It would be disappointing but we are talking about people losing their lives," Lenihan says. "Me missing out on possible promotion is not a tragedy, people losing their loved ones is a tragedy.

"But if they did just stop now, it would be unfair on Leeds and West Brom to miss out, they have been ahead for most of the season. We'd have a good chance of getting in there and it would be frustrating for teams like us to be denied, but more so for Leeds and West Brom who deserve to go up.

But no matter what call the authorities make there will be complaints, you have the relegation issue in all divisions to consider. It's out of the club's hands.

"We could be back on April 3, we could be out for two months, the season might not finish. For now, we are told to train in isolation, to stay at home as much as possible. We're all in the dark but football is not the most important thing right now."