'You can’t just stop football for 12 months - that would be unthinkable' - states Institute manager Sean Connor
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In fact, Ireland’s Minister for Health, Simon Harris has cast further doubt that any sport will take place south of the border after admitting ‘it’s highly unlikely we’re going to be seeing very large kinds of mass gatherings this year’. And Connor is worried this might be the case in the north.
“If it’s not safe for crowds, how can it be safe for players?” he questioned. “Unless players are consistently checked once a week, but then all you need is one player to get the virus within that period of time and suddenly he’ll spread it and the league will probably have to be shut down completely.
“I was quite confident about the season finishing, but I was listening to Newstalk on Sunday and the GAA are saying that there will be no big crowds here and no football until there’s a vaccine, which makes it very worrying, because you could be talking 12 months or longer for that to happen.
“Look, I don’t know what to do but you can’t just stop football for 12 months - that would be unthinkable.”
Connor also strongly feels that tough decisions will need to be made in terms of when to completely call off the 2019/20 season.
“If we can’t get back playing by the start of August, then I think some football clubs will go to the wall,” he explained. “I just fear what would happen if we don’t start the new campaign. NIFL (Northern Ireland Football League), have to be looking towards making a decision about starting the new campaign and almost writing this season off.
“As I said, if this season isn’t starting by August, then decisions have to be made because when are you going to start the new season? I think if we get things going by the end of August, you would have to start fresh and it would give everybody time for a pre-season. Yes it would be unfortunate that this season would be wiped out, but that’s the way you would have to do it.
“If you end up playing this season out into August then when do you start the new season? There’s lots of ramifications. It’s a very difficult decision for anybody to make but maybe the sensible thing would be, which I know suits us, to finish the season as is with no relegation and we promote the top two teams in the Championship and go with a 14 team Premiership for one season.
“It’s easy to say that we’ll have a summer league in the 2020/21 season, but when do you come back to your normal season or do you never come back. To me that’s a step that just throws everything out of sink. That’s why I think it’s much easier to stop as we are, top two of the Championship are promoted and we have a 14 team Premiership, give it a go for a season.
“Maybe that’s the way forward, maybe we need 14 teams in the Premiership, to get away from playing each other four times a year and maybe it will put some freshness into the league. If we had 14 teams in the Premiership and we play each other three teams, that’s 39 games and just one extra game that we are playing at the moment.”
The former Dundalk manager has been using various social media apps like Zoom, Whatsapp and arranging Conference calls as he stays in regular contact with chairman Bill Anderson, his coaching staff and players, during the COVID-19 pandemic and he wants to wish ’Stute supporters well.
“I speak to the chairman every two days, I have Zoom video conferences with the coaching staff and we have a Whatsapp group chat for the players, where we send the players their training programmes and they reply with their results from the sessions, so we are keeping busy that way.
“Yes, using social media isn’t ideal but it’s not bad and it’s giving some of our players who have wee niggles, the chance to get rid of their niggles; while other players are getting some really good fitness work done. The only thing you are missing is obviously the group work and the tactical work and that’s a big miss.
“But hopefully we can get over this current situation and I can’t wait to see everyone soon, back at the Brandywell and I hope the Institute fans are staying safe and staying active.”
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