SIDELINED Partry Athletic manager Neil Donnelly.
PARTRY ATHLETIC manager Neil Donnelly sums up the dilemma currently facing those involved in team sports when he says: “They’d love to be playing sport, but the human side of it is a different story.”
With the Bundesliga back and the Premier League taking tentative steps towards kicking off again, Irish amateur soccer still resides in limbo.
At a time when the road ahead for sport is paved with dilemmas, the Partry boss acknowledges that there are no easy solutions for administrators and organisers.
With the number of reported Covid-19 cases in Ireland currently falling, public health restrictions are gradually being eased. Team sports such as soccer are scheduled to resume on July 20, ‘but only where limitations are placed on the numbers of spectators and where social distancing can be maintained’.
However, fears of a spike in Covid-19 cases in the future could potentially see restrictions re-imposed and sport put on hold yet again. Citing Mayo’s relatively high infection rate, Neil Donnelly fears that this could scupper even the best of plans to re-start competitive fixtures.
“In my own personal opinion, I can’t see how they’ll be able to organise anything this year, not with the way the leagues are set up at the moment,” he told The Mayo News.
“Especially when you’d be travelling [for games]. In the league we’re in [League One] we’d be travelling as far as Newport and up to North Mayo to Kilmore. I know a number of players and coaching staff that wouldn’t be happy with that, and that’s the same with a lot of clubs.”
Having set their sights on promotion to the Premier League, Partry Athletic only had a handful of pre-season training sessions completed before the Mayo Football League indefinitely postponed all competitions on March 12.
Ten weeks later, not a ball has been kicked anywhere.
Like many others involved in amateur sport, clubs like Partry are torn between the desire to return to play and the interests of public safety. While the chances of players who don’t have an underlying illness being struck down with the virus are believed to be negligible, the risk of passing it to vulnerable family members or friends would undoubtedly weigh heavily on those involved.
Donnelly says: “They just cannot take the risk with amateur sport. If one person dies because of it, it’s one too many. That’s the way people look at it. I really don’t know how they’re going to sort it.”
The Banogues, Ballintubber native suggests organising a one-off competition among teams from various districts to be played later in the year, thereby minimising any potential spread of Covid-19 across the county.
“North Mayo could have quite a sizeable league between the Moy Villas and Ballina Towns in the Ballina area, as could Castlebar. You could play four or five games and be done with it. You’d have teams that never play each other playing each other.”
A cousin of former Republic of Ireland international player and manager, Stephen Staunton, Donnelly points out that the social element of sport continues to be sorely missed by players, coaches and spectators alike.
“I know a number of the players, even myself, would like to be doing something with their evenings. Even at my age I’d still have a kick around with them. There are vulnerable players as well who had football as their outlet.”
As a father with children involved in many sports, Donnelly says youngsters are missing sport much more than adults.
“Bad and all as it is for senior sport, it’s even worse for junior sport. The kids are feeling it a lot more. We’ve played a lot, they haven’t.”
While acknowledging the difficult situation faced by the Mayo Football League, Donnelly says he would like to see more clarity as to what competitions, if any, will be played this year.
“They’re just the same as the rest of us; they’re waiting for someone else to tell them what to do. There’s no point starting leagues that are going to be that are going to be cancelled after five or six games [if the virus returns]. That really would annoy teams... to me that’s worse.”