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Scottish debacle shows LOI must be on red alert

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Boli Bolingoli has caused Celtic a lot of problems

Boli Bolingoli has caused Celtic a lot of problems

PA

Boli Bolingoli has caused Celtic a lot of problems

The path through a pandemic to get the 2020 League of Ireland season up and running was littered with bombs and bullets for an FAI board faced with threats of boycotts, complaints and a flat-out refusal by some clubs to even consider playing behind closed doors.

During that rancorous period who'd have thought that it would be the crisis-plagued League of Ireland (LOI) which would enjoy (so far) a relatively blemish-free resumption while bigger and better leagues across Europe endure pain?

Linfield are the latest club to suffer as yesterday afternoon, just hours before their Champions League qualifier against Kosovan side Drita, UEFA announced that the game was off "due to Covid 19 issues within the Kosovan team".

UEFA are about to find out that if completing the 2019/'20 Champions League and Europa League campaigns was tricky, but still possible, getting stuck into the 2020/'21 season will be a nightmare.

It's not been perfect in Ireland with one league game (Sligo Rovers v Waterford) postponed due to concerns over reports that two Waterford players reported Covid-like symptoms (they both tested negative for the virus). And Waterford have yet to explain the reasons for the departure of their club doctor last week.

Kicked

Even before a ball was kicked there were rows within the game here, with Dr Alan Byrne, chief medical officer with the FAI, unhappy in March when some LOI managers tried to ignore his advice that all group training should cease, and, in June, Bohemians had to issue a public apology after they carried out training "contrary to FAI advice".

But the restart has gone well here, a badly-needed 'win' for the FAI in a testing time and feedback on the WatchLOI streaming service is positive (though it would be helpful if figures were revealed).

Scotland can only wish it could say the same.

Celtic's fixtures away to St Mirren today and away to Aberdeen on Saturday have been postponed, Celtic and Aberdeen are in trouble with the Scottish authorities (in football and in government) over the behaviour of their players.

Both clubs have been given a red card by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and there are wider implications for Celtic if next week's Champions League qualifier at home to KR Reykjavik cannot go ahead, with the nightmare scenario for the Bhoys of UEFA awarding the tie to the Icelandic club and booting them out of the Champions League.

Dubliner Jonny Hayes earned himself a truckload of brownie points from within Aberdeen and beyond when it was revealed that one of the conditions of his July move from Celtic back to Pittodrie was his decision to defer his wages for a year to assist the cash-strapped club.

Weekend actions ate into those brownie points as Hayes was chosen by the club as the one to put his name to a grovelling statement of apology, issued by the club on behalf of the eight players who gathered in a bar in the city the previous weekend, in contradiction of club rules on behaviour, which has seen two Dons players test positive for the virus and put another six in quarantine.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon didn't shy away when asked about the decision by defender Boli Bolingoli to make a quick trip to Spain, in contravention of quarantine rules.

"We were livid and appalled. We have been bitterly, sorely let down by the selfish actions of one individual, he has totally let the club down. The players are angry, disappointed and frustrated," Lennon said of the Belgian defender.

Bolingoli is unlikely to play for Celtic again. Already, two of Celtic's league games are off, but if their Champions League tie next week runs into trouble, the consequences would be massive.

Other leagues have had issues too. The Polish Super Cup was called off after the team doctor from one of the clubs, Legia Warsaw, tested positive for Covid. Four clubs have a Covid presence within their camps and all the staff at one top-flight club are currently in isolation.

A bitter war of words has broken out in the game there, as Zbigniew Boniek, head of the Polish FA, accused Legia of trying to "hide their sick". In response, the club claimed Boniek was guilty of "lies and slander" about Legia.

Here, clubs like St Patrick's Athletic, who were adamant in June that playing behind closed doors with games streamed online would simply not work, have found that it has worked.

Clubs have taken their Covid responsibilities seriously, as have supporters who, apart from the occasional ladder-holding enthusiast, have stayed away from games.

For decades, Scottish football has looked down its nose at its League of Ireland cousin. As Celtic and Aberdeen suffer verbal blows from the actions of their employees, the FAI will hope that the centre here can hold and the LOI can get through it.