Appointment times for Covid-19 testing, training in separate groups, no car-pooling and showering at home – League of Ireland footballers are getting used to the ‘New Normal’ of life in a pandemic as four clubs were allowed to train for the first time in three months.
Frustration remains in place within some squads across the country that the SSE Airtricity League is the only top flight in Europe which has been halted without a restart date, though a crucial FAI meeting this Thursday should at last give some clarity on when the league can resume and in what format.
But there was relief for Bohemians, Derry City, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers players yesterday as those clubs were able to go back to training, ahead of the other 16 teams in the league as they’re due to play in UEFA competition this summer.
It was there first time to meet up in a group since the league was suddenly halted in March.
“It’s good to be back, it’s been a long time since we were together as a group,” says Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers after his first day back at work.
“It’s different. You fill out a questionnaire before you leave home, turning up for training with the first thing being a temperature check, (then) having a one-way system for getting around the place – that’s all new.
“There have been a lot of changes and it will take getting used to but this is something we all need to do if football is to come back. It was a relief to go back training yesterday and that all the tests so far on the players at the four clubs had come back negative. It was a good day, it ran smoothly and hopefully that’s a good sign for the future.”
The Dundalk players had been given an individual, five-minute time slot to report to Oriel Park for their Covid-19 test and temperature check, having initially filled out an online survey on their health, the squad arriving in their training gear, having travelled solo in cars.
Dundalk worked in three groups, two sets of 10 outfield players while keepers Rogers and Aaron McCarey worked with their goalkeeping coach Steve Williams, as a specially-appointed Covid-19 official oversaw it all to make sure protocols were adhered to.
“It’s like another pre-season so we’ll be doing lots of running, fitness work and then ball work,” says Rogers.
“But there will be changes, car-pooling to training is gone. Interaction won’t be the same, you have a five-minute slot for your test so you chat to lads on the walk in or out but you’re not with them in a group situation as normal, apart from when you are out on the training pitch. You can have a bit of a chat and once you are out on the pitch training, there’s not much difference (there).”
Players also have to prepare for training in a new way, arriving at the training ground already in training kit while there’s no post-training shower.
During a conference call between referee representatives and the FAI last weekend, refs asked about how they should deal with an issue like a goalkeeper spitting on his gloves – as some keepers have a habit of doing – and then handling the ball, no clarity on that as yet while refs also need to know what action to take should a player spit at an opponent.
“I’m not in the habit of spitting on my gloves, I’d use water if needed but they need to look at it and eradicate it,” says Rogers.
“You can certainly ask keepers to refrain from doing it. Spitting in general should be gone from the game, there should be no place for a player who spits at an opponent.”
Players from the four clubs currently in training will be tested twice a week, with the possibility that other clubs could return to training next Monday, though any resumption of training depends on Thursday’s meeting between the FAI and the clubs as Abbotstown officials try and plan a path to a return to play.