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'Everyone has been told to get a bag ready' - Shels defender on stand-by to be deployed by the Army

Aidan Friel is a member of the Irish Defence Forces while also playing League of Ireland football.

Friel has played every minute of Shels' return to the top flight.
Friel has played every minute of Shels' return to the top flight.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

AIDAN FRIEL’S FOOTBALL career in the League of Ireland has been put on hold for now. 

And while he has continued to train in self-isolation, there are potentially more pressing matters on the horizon. 

As a member of the Irish Defence Forces, the Shelbourne defender is ready to be called upon if needed to support the HSE in treating the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’m on stand-by at the minute,”the Strabane native tells The42. “Most of the army is the same in case they need more bodies. Everyone has been told to get a bag ready, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

The 29-year-old has been based in Baldonnell since joining the Air Corps in 2011. Having recently started the latest phase in a heavy vehicle mechanics apprenticeship — being conducted in Waterford — the private had been making the daily commute from his course back to Dublin for training and matches. 

One week in, however, it was cancelled after the government introduced safety measures to battle the coronavirus. Around the same time, sport was being shut down across the country.

“I think it’s only hitting home now for a lot of people,” Friel, an Irish Defence Forces international, says. “Many were probably thinking it would just go away, but then you see everywhere closing and football being abandoned.

“It’s been a bit depressing, to be honest. We can’t play football, there’s none to watch on TV and you can’t even meet up with two or three of the lads for a training session.

It has been a bit of a whirlwind as everything you’re used to in your day-to-day life has changed.”

Like a number of LOI teams, the Shels squad have all received training programmes to undertake remotely, which are then monitored by the coaching staff.  

“We’ve been given stuff to do nearly everyday, wearing our GPS vests. They are being tracked so there’s no hiding from it.

“We’ve got our players’ group and you download your run from the Map My Run so everyone can see that you’re actually doing it. The only thing you could hide from is the gym work but it’s up to yourself to put that in.”

As you might expect, he misses the camaraderie that goes hand-in-hand with group sessions. 

“It’s boring and you feel like a long distance runner, but it will stand to us when we go back.”

danny-grant-with-aidan-friel Facing Danny Grant of Bohemians. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Having won the First Division in manager Ian Morris’ debut season, Shelbourne returned to the top flight for the first time since 2013 last month. 

With an experienced squad, they were expected to challenge for a European spot this term and currently sit fifth in the table after two wins (Cork City and St Patrick’s Athletic) and two defeats (Dundalk and Bohemians). 

“Hopefully when we get back we can push on and do better,” says Friel, who has played every minute so far this season. “We were disappointed we only won those two games, and felt we could have got something out of Dundalk and Bohs.”

As it stands, the FAI are aiming to restart the SSE Airtricity League on 19 June but that may not be viable and real uncertainty remains around when football will return.

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He adds: “As players our training is based on us being back by the 19 June but if not we’ll just have to reassess it and go again.”

With no fans coming through the turnstiles on Friday nights, clubs’ finances have already taken a serious hit with Cork City, Sligo Rovers and Drogheda United forced to stop paying staff. 

Thankfully for Friel and his team-mates, Shels announced this week that they intend to honour player contracts but it’s a precarious situation for the league as a whole. 

“I can understand where clubs are coming from as they get most of their money from the gates,” he accepts. “You would never want a club going bust trying to pay players.

“There are some players on our team who rely on the wages from Shels, so it’s good that they can continue to pay. Luckily enough, I’m getting a wage already but other lads would have nothing else coming in.”

Currently living between the barracks and his girlfriend’s parents’ house in Firhouse, Friel is eager to get back playing again but he also knows that the call to say he’s needed elsewhere might come at any time. 

“As long as you have your family and they’re all healthy, football doesn’t really matter,” he reflects.

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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