Ballinamallard United keeper John Connolly voices frustration with lockdown plans

Ballinamallard's John Connolly says the lockdown rules are full of contradictions

BALLINAMALLARD United goalkeeper John Connolly has expressed his deep frustration at the continued suspension of football below ‘elite' level and believes local government must chart a clearer path for citizens to cope better with living with Covid19 instead of “jumping in and out of lockdown” for the foreseeable future.

Currently, the Irish Premiership and the women's equivalent were allocated ‘elite' status and can therefore continue to play games, but all other levels of football have been paused until further notice.

Many Championship clubs – the division below the Irish Premiership – have voiced their frustration at not being able play games or train as normal even though they have met all protocols.

“The word ‘elite' has never been used before. I know it's the top league in the country. But I'd imagine it's the same for every club in the Championship, that all clubs need to meet certain criteria, and it's the same criteria as the Premiership,” said Connolly.

“They fall under the same umbrella of NIFL. So I don't understand how the Premier League can go ahead but the leagues below it can't.

“We obviously know all the protocols were in place for the friendly games we played and we were doing everything correctly for ourselves. Anybody that was coming into the ground was getting their temperature taken, names and telephone numbers were given. I've no doubt all the clubs were doing the same and doing their bit.”

In what he describes as the “longest pre-season ever” [from the end of June], the former Cliftonville ‘keeper insists the football authorities should have started the leagues in early September rather than pencilling them in for mid-October when the rise in Covid cases was being predicted.

“They should have started in September, got ‘x' amount of games played and maybe have a two-week break in October and see how things are then. It is frustrating.”

With the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride stating earlier this week that NHS staff are now better equipped to deal with Covid cases because they have more experience as well as a “whole cadre of drugs” available in combating the virus, Connolly added: “I think we have to get to the stage where we're going to have to live with Covid. We can't constantly be jumping in and out of lockdown. What happens after these four weeks? What happens if the cases go back up again?

“Do we go back into another lockdown situation? How are people meant to live? How are businesses meant to cope? You just hope the government has a plan for coming out of this lockdown.”

With the new restrictions in mind, the IFA issued a statement earlier this week explaining that players of up to 15 could train in a socially distant manner but it merely added to the confusion of what non-elite teams can actually do during the current lockdown.

“We had a Zoom meeting and up until this week we were told we couldn't train; now it can be non-contact training. Does that mean we can come in and train with the ball? Or, are footballs in use? Do we just come in and work on our fitness? It's just getting clarification on what we can and can't do. I think that's been part of the problem. You can't get a straight answer.”

It doesn't help sports clubs wishing to engage in non-contact training that all council-owned facilities are closed.

Meanwhile, the Ballinamallard United man believes that kids football should never have been stopped especially with schools currently closed.

“Everyone knows the situation we're in and understands it but the fact of the matter is kids have to be allowed to be kids.

“For some kids, their only social interaction is outside the house and their football and their training and in some cases that's the only interaction they may have with other kids. That's been taken away from them - and four weeks is a long time for them.”

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