WEST Cork League clubs will have to wait a little longer before returning to on-field action despite the easing of Level 5 restrictions.
There’s little doubt that the West Cork League was primed for a return to their playing pitches before details of the lifting of Level 5 restrictions were announced.
An internal poll asking club secretaries and managers if, subject to approval, they were in favour of restarting the WCSL U19 and Junior Leagues on December 6th or waiting another week until December 12th and 13th produced an expected response.
Eighty percent of those polled were in favour of kicking off on December 6th. Following that, the West Cork League went as far as preparing a provisional set of fixtures for both the Premier and Championship divisions.
Alas, an FAI statement, issued via its official website, confirmed what WCL officials and players had been dreading. There will be no competitive or friendly matches despite lockdown restrictions being eased.
The FAI statement confirmed that: ‘All adult amateur teams can enjoy a return to training as from today subject to strict Government guidelines and FAI Safer Return to Training Protocol. For adult amateur and underage teams, outdoor non-contact training is permissible in pods of 15 with a minimum of one coach present. Two coaches must be present for all underage teams’.
The fact the GAA inter-county season, deemed an elite/professional sport, along with horseracing, has been permitted to continue during national Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions has a lot of soccer fans throughout the West Cork region asking why not their sport as well?
Could a further easing of restrictions accommodate junior soccer league matches – whilst strictly adhering to FAI protocols – and that attract little or no supporters to their games anyway?
So, is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Any chance the HSE and government might relent if Covid figures continue to decline?
‘We (WCL) are no wiser as to when we can return to playing than anybody else because we are waiting on the government to give everybody the green light,’ West Cork League Secretary John Buckley told The Southern Star.
‘The FAI have had an ongoing dialogue with Sport Ireland and Government across the whole of last week, both directly and via the Expert Medical Group. These discussions are ongoing, and we continue to stress the following key facts. Irish football has fully complied with all Government Guidelines to date. Our Leagues and clubs have worked tirelessly to successfully implement all FAI Protocols and Government guidelines throughout 2020.
‘We want football matches at all levels to return as early as it is deemed safe to do so in the New Year. Ideally, we want to see a scenario whereby all football matches and training activity at all levels are allowed within Level 3 restrictions. Things can change very quickly though so maybe if GAA games in front of empty stadiums are being run off safely, why not local junior soccer games as well? We will have to wait and see.’
One round of the 2020-21 West Cork League season was completed before the previous lockdown came into effect. Finishing off the various leagues and cups in a shortened time frame is going to be far from easy next year. It is a headache John Buckley would prefer to have than the current cessation of all matches and WCL players being allowed to train in small pods (groups).
‘It’s going to be a case of trying to get as many games played as possible when the time comes,’ Buckley admitted.
‘The West Cork League will be given a date that we have to have our season completed by. That could well end up being extended until sometime in August. When we are given the go-ahead to resume our competitions, that will be the point we can assess how many fixtures can realistically be played.
‘Our leagues will be prioritised over our cup competitions. We will try to get the Beamish Cup completed, if we can, but we may be forced to pull some of the other knockout competitions for one season. It all depends on how much time we have to get the season completed.’
Like Buckley and his fellow West Cork League committee members, WCL managers and players are desperate to get back playing the sport they love. Although permission to resume training is a welcome development, nothing beats the thrill of competitive league football on a frosty December morning.
‘Clubs can train away and I have been contacted by numerous managers asking when we can go back playing,’ Buckley said.
‘There is no update on that at the moment but as I said earlier, things can change very quickly. When you see the GAA completing games in a safe and controlled manner, the hope is that the FAI will be permitted the same authority sooner rather than later.
‘I know the FAI are talking to both the government and Sport Ireland about this very subject. Trying to get amateur games played under level three restrictions, with extra conditions, is what is being discussed so we just have to wait for the outcome of those discussions.
‘I completely understand players and managers frustrations with not being able to play matches at this time of year, especially newer clubs. It’s great to see a club like Courtmacsherry getting going once again, they enjoyed plenty of West Cork League success over the years. The same goes for Beara United, who had success over the years too and it is refreshing to see so many young players getting involved as well. That’s important for both clubs’ future.
‘Hopefully, all West Cork League clubs will be given the chance to play again sooner rather than later.’