Closed doors probably local football's only hope of resumption: Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin never imagined Covid19 would cause as much chaos at it has

CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin believes finishing the season behind closed doors might be the only hope of local football resuming this year.

The game has been in lockdown since March 7 with the initial hope being that activities could re-commence before the end of April. But with the coronavirus pandemic yet to reach its devastating peak in the north, it could be deep into autumn before we see a return to the sporting field.

And even when football does resume McLaughlin feels there will be a lot of restrictions in place.

“I don’t think we’re going to turn the TV on one day and everybody’s going to go back to normal,” said the Derry man.

“It’s going to be small steps for a while. And I think seeing full stadiums again is a long way off. Playing games behind closed doors might be a way of getting sport started again.”

Derry City director Denis Bradley appeared to go a step further by suggesting the League of Ireland season could be scrapped or the number of games reduced, adding that all options are “up for grabs”.

A number of Bundesliga clubs, including Bayern Munich, returned to training earlier this month in groups of five with no contact among the players and in observance of government directives.

In their bid to battle the pandemic, the German government says there will be no major sporting events taking place until August 31, although 'ghost games' would be considered in the interim.

Earlier this week, the Scottish Professional Football League [SPFL] voted to end the season in the lower leagues with Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers declared respective champions, with Partick Thistle and Stranraer suffering demotion. A task force is to be set up to look at restructuring the leagues and expanding the top flight.

The SPFL now has the power to end the Scottish Premier League but will consult the clubs before reaching a decision.

It will be interesting to note if Scotland's move will have a ripple effect across the Irish Sea.

On Monday April 6, the Northern Ireland Football League [NIFL] conceded they could not commit to a new start date for local football.

Linfield and Coleraine are battling it out at the top of the Irish Premiership while the Reds were looking forward to an Irish Cup semi-final with Dungannon Swifts.

McLaughlin admits that it has been difficult for the Cliftonville players to stay focused, especially with no resumption on the horizon.

“I’m staying in contact as often as I can with the players but it’s difficult for them to stay focused because we don’t know when we’ll be back playing and we’re nowhere close to that. It’s just a guessing game.”

Once the lockdown came into force, Reds chairman Gerard Lawlor confirmed the club’s players would be paid in full even though its financial reserves would be severely dented as a consequence of the pandemic.

McLaughlin added: “I’m hoping it can be finished because there is still so much to play for and the showpiece game of the season is still to be played – the Irish Cup final – there is so much at stake, I think the season will be finished. But it’s when, no-one knows.

“The great thing about our boys is they do look after themselves. We’ve got a lot of young players who are naturally fit and some of them work in gyms so they know how to keep themselves fit. We’ve got programmes sent out to them but there are only so many times you can do them over and over before you start losing interest and motivation leaves you.

“But, of course, the priority is people’s health and safety.”

Like almost every other citizen, McLaughlin didn’t anticipate the full impact Covid19 would cause.

“It’s crazy to think that in this day and age this is happening. It’s not just happening in Ireland or Europe - it’s happening everywhere in the world. It just shows you, we take things for granted and things can be taken away from you very quickly. It puts life in perspective.

“I remember hearing about this virus in January and Irish League fans were bantering each other saying that the league won’t get finished this year. At the time I was thinking: ‘That’ll never happen.’

“Within a couple of weeks you’re staring into this and you’re thinking: ‘Jesus, is this actually happening?’ Because it was happening halfway across the world you think it won’t affect us, but within a couple of weeks it’s landed on everyone’s doorstep. It’s crazy how quickly it happened and how serious it is. It is teaching us a very harsh lesson on life and that anything can happen at any time.”

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